The impact of kinship networks on old-age vulnerability in Indonesia
Annales de Démographie Historique, (2), .
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This article examines the problem of care provision for elderly people in Java, a contemporary developing society characterised by lack of formal welfare services, nuclear family organisation and high levels of childlessness. A similar sociodemographic, cultural and economic regime existed in historical Northwest Europe, where it has been seen as having contributed to the early emergence of community based old-age care and low involvement of wider kin networks. Here the role of kin in providing old-age care in a nuclear family system is re-examined by drawing on longitudinal data of elderly people’s life histories and support networks in a village in East Java. The central argument is that the identification of elders most vulnerable to a lack of care and support in old age requires understanding the nature and functioning of kin networks over time. The paper discusses three key aspects of networks—network membership, exchanges within networks and network dynamics—and arrives at a characterisation of different kin networks on the basis of size, composition, location and social status. By focusing on the effects of a specific crisis, namely the loss of a wife, on care outcomes in old age, it is possible to determine what kinds of kin networks are best able to adjust to a sudden change in older people’s circumstances and protect them from declines in welfare. This reveals the importance, especially for childless elderly people, of extended, heterogeneous and well-connected kin networks.
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