So-called ‘empty nest syndrome’ does not
affect parents living in rural areas as much as previously thought,
according to a new study
carried out in Thailand.
In fact, parents whose children have all
migrated to urban areas of Thailand are less likely to experience
depression than parents whose children stay at home.
Psychiatrists from the Institute of
Psychiatry, King’s College London, teamed up with researchers in
Thailand to examine the impact of rural-urban migration on the
mental health of parents. Such migration is increasing among young
people in developing countries, and it has been suggested that
parents may experience loneliness, isolation and depression when
their children move away.
The team surveyed 1,147 parents aged 60 and
over living in villages in rural Thailand. They found that
depression was less common among parents with all their children
living outside the district, compared to parents with some or all
of their children living locally. Depression was highest among
parents of poorer families with all their children still living in
the local area.
Lead researcher Dr Melanie Abas said the team
were surprised by the study results. She said: “A commonly held
view is that outmigration of young people has starkly negative
consequences for parents living in rural areas as they get older.
But our findings challenge the popular belief that family
separation causes older parents to feel abandoned and lacking in
Dr Abas and her colleagues put forward two
explanations for their findings. First, families where all the
children migrate to urban areas may have existing advantages over
families from where migration is less common.
For example, the parents in the study whose children had all left
home tended to be better educated, and were more likely to be
younger, married and still working themselves. These factors all
reduce their risk for depression. In contrast, having few children
migrate could be linked to failed aspirations, increasing the risk
for family conflict and depression.
Second, migration can bring financial benefits
to families. Children who move away usually send remittances home
to their parents, which can lift parents out of poverty and boost
their mental health and well-being. Very few Thai people receive a
pension, and rely on children as their main source of cash
Dr Abas concluded: “Policies are needed to
ensure that the rural poor without urban connections can still reap
some of the social and economic advantages of the urban
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Abas MA, Punpuing S, Jirapramukpitak T, Guest P, Tangchonlatip K, Leese M and Prince M (2009) Rural-urban migration and depression in ageing family members left behind, British Journal of Psychiatry, 195: 54-60