Project 1

Effects of social support on later life well-being of migrants: A network study


To comparatively investigate social network effects and particularly having children on the well-being of older migrant and native populations in the Netherlands.

Theoretical background

Personal support networks are acknowledged to play a central role in the well-being of individuals regardless of age, gender, and ethnicity (Thoits, 2011). They tend to be regarded even more significant as individuals get older, representing a different life stage entailing other age-related needs and resources for their well-being. Old age is often depicted as a life phase indicating changes and losses in families and friendship circles, as well as children moving away along with a decline in physical health. Particularly for older labor migrants, personal networks are acknowledged to be of utmost importance as their health deteriorates faster and their personal ties are geographically much more dispersed, including transnational ones, than those of their native counterparts. Although previous research in migration studies usually pinpoints the emotionally supportive dimension of transnational personal relationships, the evidence is rather ambivalent for intergenerational ones. In this project we aim to investigate personal networks of older migrant and native populations with an emphasis on received support from their children.

After all, children play a central role in migration decision-making, in addition to material and non-material support they provide to their parents, particularly in later life. However, in some cases, children might not accompany the migrating parents or migrate themselves later leading to geographical separation that is closely related to the parents’ well-being (van der Pers et al., 2015). According to the value of children approach (VOC), children bring certain benefits to their parents either through their functions or fulfilling their parents’ needs (Nauck, 2014). The VOC approach has been applied in various countries in which emotional benefits are highlighted more than utilitarian or normative values children bring in ‘developed’ countries. However, there is still a mix of evidence on the benefits that children bring to their parents depending on the country and gender (of parents and children). Furthermore, as migration studies usually investigate existing intergenerational relations, we do not know the effects of not having children on migrants’ well-being in comparison to the native population. It is rather surprising that there is no comparative and systematic study to indicate to what extent the composition and structure of personal networks in general, and having children in particular, influence migrants’ well-being. Therefore, given the centrality of children in migration experiences, combining different strands of research, this project comparatively investigates the effects of personal support networks of older migrants and natives on their well-being in the Netherlands.

Research design

The current project will investigate personal support networks of older migrants (from Turkey and Surinam) and native populations through a mixed methods research design. Both qualitative and quantitative data will be collected in a face-to-face mode with around 60 persons in total. Standardized ego network questions and measures of well-being will be complemented with semi-structured in-depth interviews through which the participants will be able to reflect on the meaning of their personal relationships. The project will make use of GENSI in CAPI mode to include a diversity of respondents.

  • Nauck, B. (2014). Value of children and the social production of welfare. Demographic Research, 30(66), 1793–1824.
  • Thoits, P.A. (2011). Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52, 145–161.
  • Van der Pers, M., Mulder, C.H., & Steverink, N. (2015). Geographic proximity of adult children and the well-being of older persons. Research on Aging, 37(5), 524–551.
Project initiators

Başak Bilecen (RUG) and Nardi Steverink (RUG)