The Living Arrangements of Elderly in Thailand: Views of the Populace
Demographic trends of the past decades in many developing countries, and particularly those in Asia, are leading to unprecedented increases not only in the absolute numbers of older persons but also in their relative share of the total population. At the same time rapid social and economic changes are underway that have potentially profound implications for the circumstances under which the future elderly will live. In most Asian countries, the primary responsibility for the elderly has traditionally been with the family. Most observers believe it is in the government's as well as the future elderly's interest to preserve this familial system of care and support.
However, despite its potential importance, research on the elderly and their support systems in developing countries has only recently begun. As a result, quantitative documentation of the current baseline situation is just beginning to accumulate while systematic qualitative research into the views and opinions of the elderly and their family is almost totally absent. The goal of the present report is to examine the views of the elderly and their adult children in Thailand as related to issues revolving around living arrangements. Our analysis is based primarily on qualitative data generated through a series of focus group discussions devoted to a variety of topics concerning the situation of the elderly. The focus groups were carried out by the Institute of Population Studies, Chulalongkorn University, during a one-year period spanning 1990-91. Our concentration in the present report on living arrangements stems from the crucial role they play in the current familial system of support and assistance for the elderly as it currently exists in Thailand. Under present conditions at least, coresidence with adult children, or living nearby in functionally related households, is likely to meet the wide range of the needs of the elderly more fully than any other aspect of the system. The focus group discussions provide insights into how the Thai populace views a variety of issues related to the living arrangements of the elderly, including the benefits and problems associated with coresidence, the choice of the coresident care giver, mechanisms encouraging coresidence, alternatives to living with children, and the impact of social changes on living arrangements.
Findings mesh well with quantitative data derived from the SECAPT survey and other sources. The focus groups clearly bring out the strong and pervasive normative underpinning for the prevailing pattern of coresidence of elderly parents with at least one adult child. The sense of moral obligation for children to care for their parents later in life that is instilled in children from an early age appears to be deeply rooted in the Thai value system and thus unlikely to vanish in the foreseeable future even under the onslaught of rapid and pervasive social and economic change.
Indeed, the high levels of coresidence at present suggests that this key feature of living arrangements associated with the familial support system has declined little, if at all, up to the present time. While the focus group discussions underscore the normative basis of a coresidential living arrangement, they also make clear that there are costs as well as benefits involved for both generations and that the balance of these vary both with the life course stage of the elderly and their children and with the changing external social and economic environment.