Growing Old in the Mountains
Outmigration in Nepal is a well-researched economic phenomenon: a stunning 30% of the country’s income comes from money sent home by migrants to their families. Various social impacts on those who remain at home are well-documented. But what of older people? They have been forgotten in studies to date. What happens when the younger generation is no longer there to take care of the elderly?
Globally, population is aging rapidly and the young keep on migrating. This is also observable in Nepal, especially in mountains, where villages are losing their workforce, affecting the rural landscape. Villages are increasingly inhabited by older people who normally would rely on the young to till their fields, support them when moving on steep terrain, and accompany them to village offices to fight for their right to a pension. Instead, Nepalese norms and values are changing abruptly: today, the young lack respect towards the elderly; traditional values are no longer valid. In addition, governmental support and the social insurance system are very fragile. My study assessed older people’s viewpoints, revealing additional, un-researched challenges that outmigration brings for remote mountain regions.
I believe we urgently need to explore outmigration in connection with demographic change, and its consequences on the local population and society at large – not only in Nepal but in many other mountain areas worldwide, particularly in the Global South. The implications of these two drivers puts pressure on the ability of governments to take responsibility and provide resources for ensuring livelihoods of the elderly.
This summary is in reference to:
“They Moved to City Areas, Abroad”: Views of the Elderly on the Implications of Outmigration for the Middle Hills of Western Nepal.
Mountain Research and Development, 37(4):425-435. 2017.
Funding for this research was proivded by The University of Zurich.
Sarah Speck is a Ph.D. candidate in Human Geography, currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Zurich. Sarah’s research interests include aging, life in old age, ageism and intergenerational relations in countries of the South. The aim of her current research project is to explore and understand older people’s lives and livelihoods in contemporary Nepal, particularly in the remote and rural Hills region of West Nepal. Focus lies on the perspective of the elderly, how they perceive their life in old age, cope and adjust to changes, navigate through and within their social worlds in our fast-moving times. Beyond university, Sarah works as a project manager at medico international switzerland in an honorary capacity. Ongoing projects focus on the aging population of Vietnam, especially on those elderly belonging to an ethnic minority. Sarah Speck holds a Master of Science in Human and Economic Geography.
What drew you to your current research field?
Previous research in Hué (Central Vietnam) for my master’s thesis sparked my interest on the topic of older people’s lives and livelihoods in countries of the South, and how they manage their lives in today’s fast moving world. After my research in Vietnam, I realized that this country is one of the fastest ageing countries worldwide and the prospect of receiving care or having financial income security in old age looks at present particularly poor. I wanted to know more about the uncertain future of ageing populations because not only in Vietnam, but also other countries of the South are rapidly ageing.
Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?
Quite a few people in private life and at work / university influenced my journey: People I met while travelling and doing field research and project work, especially the local people who I worked with, as well as people who trusted me to figure and carry out research on a relatively not well-known topic to date. Nevertheless, I would like to mention my parents Lan and Urs: They fed a thirst for knowledge, for travelling and getting to know and explore foreign places, other people and cultures.
What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?
I want to call attention to the ageing issue in countries of the South, and to make people aware of it since a) we all grow old someday, and b) ageing and demographic shifts not only affect society and family, but also have significant, adverse effects on the economy and environment, in addition to negative social and cultural impacts. Using Nepal as an example, we can use this to discuss and understand dynamics and processes and talk about the broader issues.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?
In order to understand better and explore: Go on site, stay for some time and talk to the (local elderly) people!