The best books on migration and aging

Michele Ruth Gamburd Author Of Linked Lives: Elder Care, Migration, and Kinship in Sri Lanka
By Michele Ruth Gamburd

The Books I Picked & Why

The New American Servitude: Political Belonging Among African Immigrant Home Care Workers

By Cati Coe

Book cover of The New American Servitude: Political Belonging Among African Immigrant Home Care Workers

Why this book?

When American families hire “market proxies” to do care work, it leads to all sorts of tangled relationships. In this book, Cati Coe explores the experiences of immigrant Ghanaian home health workers in the US. Care work, although often monotonous and difficult, is also incredibly intimate, meaningful, and personal. These migrants provide crucial services for American elders, but many of them feel so unwelcome that they return to Africa when they retire. I love the gritty details that this book provides as it explores the paradoxes of discrimination and exploitation that Black African women face in the care work industry. If you like this book as much as I do, consider reading Coe’s subsequent book, which follows retired Ghanaian care workers back to Africa.   


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Care Across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration

By Azra Hromadzic, Monika Palmberger

Book cover of Care Across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration

Why this book?

The authors in this lively edited volume provide eight short, readable chapters about migration and aging that span the globe, from Vienna to Ecuador to Upstate New York. How do elders displaced from Tibet think about a “second exile” in the United States? Do Bosnian migrants’ remittances make up for their long absences, or would it be better to stay home but not provide financial support? These ethnographers offer riveting windows into intergenerational relations in transnational families around the world.  


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Gender, Migration and Social Transformation: Intersectionality in Bolivian Itinerant Migrations

By Tanja Bastia

Book cover of Gender, Migration and Social Transformation: Intersectionality in Bolivian Itinerant Migrations

Why this book?

This book gets at questions near and dear to my own ethnographic explorations, namely how migration changes gender roles in households. Women don’t leave home without figuring out care for young children and frail elders. Tanja Bastia looks at how Bolivian families handle the challenge of transnational parenting. Grandmothers often fill in for their migrant daughters (there’s the aging connection!), and migrant women struggle to balance their financial opportunities with the social stigma of having ‘abandoned’ their children in search of wealth.  


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Chinese Senior Migrants and the Globalization of Retirement

By Nicole Dejong Newendorp

Book cover of Chinese Senior Migrants and the Globalization of Retirement

Why this book?

Immigrants often try to reunite their families once they settle in their new home countries. This book looks at the experiences of elder Cantonese parents who have followed their children from China to the US. Newendorp’s sensitive ethnography reveals the joys, strains, and tensions as reunited families renegotiate the rules around family support, filial duty, and the rearing of Chinese-American grandkids. 


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Aging and the Indian Diaspora: Cosmopolitan Families in India and Abroad

By Sarah E. Lamb

Book cover of Aging and the Indian Diaspora: Cosmopolitan Families in India and Abroad

Why this book?

This ethnographic work delves into the lives of elders in Calcutta, India, including those who age in place with family nearby, those whose children have migrated abroad, and those who follow their family members to the US. I particularly love the way the author roots the work in traditional South Asian concepts of age and family relationships while dealing simultaneously with social changes such as India’s urbanization and economic liberalization, the out-migration of skilled tech workers, and the introduction of old folks’ homes in urban areas. The sensitive portrayal of life histories made me both laugh and cry. 


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