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Melvin Stephens, Estimating Program Benefits

The Impact of Past Conflicts and Social Disruption in Cambodia on the Current Generation of Older Adults

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionZimmer, Zachary S., John E. Knodel, Kiry Sovan Kim, and Sina Puch. 2005. "The Impact of Past Conflicts and Social Disruption in Cambodia on the Current Generation of Older Adults." PSC Research Report No. 05-582. September 2005.

Cambodia experienced civil strife, political violence and widespread killings during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Many who died were children or spouses of today’s older-aged population. The post Khmer Rouge period was characterized by severe social dislocation and continuing conflict resulting in further losses of children and spouses. There is the possibility that these events eroded the base of core family support for older adults in a country where formal channels of assistance are virtually absent. This paper links two areas within demographic study that having been gaining increased attention in recent years, the consequences of conflict and violence and aging in developing countries, by examining the extent to which current Cambodian elderly experienced deaths to children, spouses, forced migration, and family separation, during the Khmer Rouge period, and the extent to which deaths to children and spouses during the war impact on indicators that are commonly used to measure the welfare of older-adults, specifically, those related to the living arrangements, support and material well-being. Data come from a 2004 representative survey of persons aged 60+ in an area covering over half of Cambodia's population and including Phnom Penh. Results indicate that the influence of the war was widespread. More than one in four surviving older adults in Cambodia report that a child of theirs died due to violent causes during the Khmer Rouge period, and more than one in five report death to multiple children. An interesting, and potentially striking, and on the surface counterintuitive, conclusion is that the impact of deaths to children and spouses are somewhat modest. The reasons for this, elucidated in the conclusion of this paper, include high fertility among the current generation of older adults in Cambodia, the probability that losses during the war depended on family size at the time, and the pervasiveness of poverty in the country today.

Country of focus: Cambodia.

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