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Asia -- Emigration and immigration, Emigrant remittances -- Asia, Families -- Asia


As Sri Lanka’s population ages, its migrant women face a difficult choice: should they work abroad to remit money to provision their families, or should they stay at home to look after elderly kin? Although numerous studies have explored migration’s effects on children, fewer works focus on issues of elder care. This essay presents contextualizing information on transnational migration from Sri Lanka and the rapid ageing that is transforming the country’s population structure from a pyramid with many youth and few elders into a column. Using qualitative ethnographic data gathered from a labour-sending village in southern Sri Lanka, this anthropological essay considers social priorities around remittances and intergenerational family obligations for care work. Villagers make decisions about allocating able-bodied family members’ labour based on key concepts of filial duty, combined with an analysis of a family’s financial and social resources and the vulnerabilities of its members based on their gender and age. Critiquing assumptions about elders’ lack of economic activity, the essay notes their key role in facilitating labour migration. The data reveal the importance of gender roles, educational achievements, and generational shifts in evaluating emerging practices. In the future, intergenerational family obligations to mutual care will persist despite population aging. But as extended families shrink and care work grows more demanding, choices between elder care and migrant remittances will become more challenging.


This is the author’s version of a book chapter that was accepted for publication. Gamburd, Michele Ruth (2015). “Migrant Remittances, Population Ageing and Intergenerational Family Obligations in Sri Lanka, In Transnational Labour Migration, Remittances and the Changing Family in Asia, Lan Anh Hoang and Brenda Yeoh, eds. Pp. 139-164. New York: Palgrave. Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here:

This chapter is embargoed until May 2018.

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