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Under which circumstances do older adults migrate towards faraway siblings?

Understanding the role of family proximity and the absence of partners and children



Research on older adults’ migration towards family members has focused almost exclusively on changes in intergenerational (i.e. parent-child) distances. Factors associated with intragenerational relationships – namely migration towards siblings – have received very little attention, even though siblings tend to be long-term members of people’s social networks. Brothers and sisters might become a vital source of support in old age, especially in the absence of core family members, traditionally represented by partners and children.

Drawing on Swedish register data from 2012-2016, Alyona Artamonova and Brian Gillespie (University of Groningen) address these gaps by examining whether the presence of partners and adult children matters for older adults’ (aged 70-84 years) sibling-focused migration. Additionally, they explore how the location of individuals’ children, other siblings and nephews/nieces associated with migration towards distant siblings living at least 50 km away.

Their results indicate that older adults who are widowed, divorced or have never been married are more likely to move closer to distant siblings than when they are married or partnered. The propensity of migrating towards a faraway sibling is particularly high when the divorce or a partner’s death happens within the same year as the move. Not having children is also associated with a higher likelihood of moving towards siblings. Compared with those who have a partner and at least one child, older adults who have neither a partner nor a child are more likely to move closer to distant siblings. Similar but smaller effects were found for those who have only a partner and no children, or at least one child but no partner.

Regarding the location of other family members, living near a child or another sibling strongly deters older adults from moving towards distant siblings, while the clustering of siblings at a distance increases the location’s attractiveness for them. Expectedly, if they have an adult child near the distant sibling, the migration attraction is large. Interestingly, the proximity of nephews/nieces to the distant sibling does not seem to significantly increase the attraction of this sibling for migration, even among older adults without children.

Overall, the findings contribute to the ongoing discussion about the importance of family members beyond the nuclear family. The authors have taken a first step towards understanding whether older adults move closer to their siblings and under which circumstances they tend to do so. Furthermore, the findings provide novel insight into how older adults without children and partners adapt to a lack of traditional informal caregivers and companions. Finally, the results emphasise the importance of other non-resident family members in migration, both as a deterrent to moving away and as an attraction for migration.

Author(s) of the original publication
Alyona Artamonova and Brian Gillespie