The Future of Family Support for Thai Elderly: Views of the Populace
Future cohorts entering the old age span will have fewer and more dispersed children at the same time the steady decline in coresidence with children is certain to continue. These changes pose important challenges to the traditional family system of old age support and care defined mainly in terms of filial obligations of adult children and for which coresidence was a lynchpin. This study examines how near elderly parents and persons in their adult children's ages view these changes and how they might to deal with them. A mixed method approach is used based on quantitative data from national surveys and qualitative data from open-ended interviews and discussions. The results reveal widespread awareness that family size has substantially declined and that increased migration related to education and employment opportunities are resulting in fewer adult children living with or near their aging parents. At the same time they also reveal strong normative support for having children live with or nearby aging parents and widespread preference for children as main care providers. Given that personal care requires geographical proximity, a disjuncture appears to exist between norms and the changing empirical reality. Although adult children generally proclaim a willingness to care for parents when the need arises, it remains an open question if these intentions will materialize. Government programs to assist in home based care and paid care arrangements may relieve some pressure on adult children but are likely to be only a partial solution. Financial support does not require physical proximity and thus greater dispersion of children may not necessarily threaten filial material support. However it seems likely that formal sources of support through newly established welfare benefits available to almost all elderly and expanding retirement benefits for working age persons could reduce dependence on children for filial financial support. Many near elderly parents express concerns about becoming a burden to their children and wish to maintain their independence as long as possible. If circumstances change and allow them to work to later ages this could also help substitute for filial material support. In the end, parents and their adult children are unlikely to stand by passively as the world about them changes. Thus as needs emerge, individuals are likely to exercise human agency to adapt in their own ways to the new circumstances to minimize negative impacts and maximize potential benefits.
Country of focus: Thailand.