Migration and Old Age

Although migration researchers focus on young adults' moves, for more than 25 years, population geographers and social gerontologists have studied old age migrations and migrants. The first interest, in the 1940s, was whether moves into nursing homes or between hospitals entailed a mortality risk. By the early 1980s, Pastalan, in Rowles and Otha in 1983, was able to review 34 US studies and identify the factors that influence the outcomes of older people's moves. He showed that among clinicians, migration was generally seen as a stressful life event with a real risk for survival among frail older people. Abstract or theoretical formulations went further, setting the migration experience in a psychosocial framework of personal life stage adjustment, which involves the acceptance of losses and the optimization of resources and abilities. This conceptualization recognized that migration brings new interests as well as stress. As Kahana and Kahana (in Rowles and Otha 1983: 221) put it, ''the total stimulation of anticipating a move, moving, and environmental change can benefit those who are under stimulated relative to their capacities and exhaust the lesser capacities of others [and we need] to understand all relocation phenomena from [hospital] transfer trauma to eager globetrotting by the 'adventur ous aged'.''

Another long standing interest has been in the minority of international migrations that have involved many elderly people, most of which have been 'impelled' or 'forced' displacements from natural disasters, famines, wars, political oppression, and racial enmity. Prominent recent examples have included the evacuation of Montserrat, 'ethnic cleansing' in the former Yugoslavia, and the emigration of Russian Jews to North America and Israel since 1973, when institutionalized anti-semitism was relaxed in the Soviet Union, including punitive charges for exit visas. Studies of the latter dispersal have focused on the experience and welfare of the migrants in the destination societies, although there are accounts of the migration process. Many impelled migrations are poorly recorded and difficult to analyze: a recent example is the exodus from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.