Accessibility Page Navigation
Style sheets must be enabled to view this page as it was intended.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

No ‘empty nest syndrome’ for parents in rural Thailand

Embargoed until 01 July 2009

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 support.”

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 income.

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 environment.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



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


Make a Donation