Older people struggling in market economy

Poor woman 8 September 2011

With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the transition to a market-led economy, many older people in Central Asia and the Caucasus face financial challenges, disruption to family life and reduced state services.

A recent project carried out by the University of Southampton sought to examine the living conditions, sources of finance and support networks of this group of people in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan. In contrast to World Bank findings based on 'per capita' measures of household income, it was found that older people are at greater risk of poverty than was assumed.

The ESRC-funded project was led by Professor Jane Falkingham, Director of the ESRC Centre for Population Change. She was assisted by Professor Maria Evandrou, Director of the Centre for Research on Ageing, and Dr Gail Grant and Dr Angela Baschieri at the University of Southampton.

It showed that a substantial numbers of older people in the region live in poverty and experience economic hardship. To make ends meet, many continue to work to supplement low-value pensions. Older people were often found to face healthcare deprivation and also out-of-pocket payments for treatment. However, despite the disruption brought about by economic transition, the family remains an essential source of financial and emotional support.

The research project Left Behind in Transition? Poverty, social networks and support amongst older people in Central Asia and the Caucasus involved analysis of recently available household survey data and research in Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, including in-depth interviews and focus groups carried out by local researchers.

During the past 15 years, all the countries studied have seen high levels of internal and international migration of adult children. In light of this, money provided by family members working abroad has become increasingly important. However, payments are often made sporadically and are not received by all households.

To improve opportunities for sons and daughters of working age, older people see migration as inevitable, especially in view of low wages and high levels of unemployment locally. But it is seen as having mixed benefits: the money is welcomed, but is often accompanied by a loss of emotional and physical support, increased isolation, and the need to care for grandchildren who do not move away with their parents. In Moldova, almost one in seven children in villages and half of all children in cities live with their grandparents.

The project has provided a current picture of the crucial issues facing older people in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and aims to inform poverty alleviation programmes – especially highlighting the need for social pensions. The research team has presented its findings at HelpAge International, several universities in the region, the Asian Development Bank in Manila and the World Bank in USA, as well as collaborating with local policymakers.