The best books on migration and aging

Who am I?

My mom was an anthropologist, and when I was two, she took me to Sri Lanka, the island off the tip of India. After years of insisting that I wanted nothing to do with any social science, let alone anthropology, I ended up in graduate school studying… anthropology. Long story. Having taken up the family mantel, I returned to the village where I lived as a child and asked what had changed in the intervening years. Since then, my Sri Lankan interlocutors have suggested book topics that include labor migration, the use and abuse of alcohol, the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and the challenges of aging. 


I wrote...

Linked Lives: Elder Care, Migration, and Kinship in Sri Lanka

By Michele Ruth Gamburd,

Book cover of Linked Lives: Elder Care, Migration, and Kinship in Sri Lanka

What is my book about?

When loved ones spend years away from home, what happens to the family members left behind? In this book, I draw readers into intimate family life in a coastal village in Sri Lanka. I began researching this village 30 years ago, studying what happened when mothers left the country to work as housemaids in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Over the years, the village has changed, my friends have aged, and their children have migrated. I try to capture their triumphs and sorrows and the challenges that their trans-local families face in caring for children and elders.  

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The books I picked & why

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

Michele Ruth Gamburd Why did I love 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.   

By Cati Coe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New American Servitude as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist, 2020 Elliott P. Skinner Award, given by the Association of Africanist Anthropology
Examines why African care workers feel politically excluded from the United States
Care for America's growing elderly population is increasingly provided by migrants, and the demand for health care labor is only expected to grow. Because of this health care crunch and the low barriers to entry, new African immigrants have adopted elder care as a niche employment sector, funneling their friends and relatives into this occupation. However, elder care puts care workers into racialized, gendered, and age hierarchies, making it difficult for them to achieve social…


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

Michele Ruth Gamburd Why did I love 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.  

By Azra Hromadzic (editor), Monika Palmberger (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Care Across Distance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

World-wide migration has an unsettling effect on social structures, especially on aging populations and eldercare. This volume investigates how taken-for-granted roles are challenged, intergenerational relationships transformed, economic ties recalibrated, technological innovations utilized, and spiritual relations pursued and desired, and asks what it means to care at a distance and to age abroad. What it does show is that trans-nationalization of care produces unprecedented convergences of people, objects and spaces that challenge our assumptions about the who, how, and where of care.


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

Michele Ruth Gamburd Why did I love 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.  

By Tanja Bastia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gender, Migration and Social Transformation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Intersectionality can be used to analyse whether migration leads to changes in gender relations. This book finds out how migrants from a peri-urban neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia, make sense of the migration journeys they have undertaken.

Migration is intrinsically related to social transformation. Through life stories and community surveys, the author explores how gender, class, and ethnicity intersect in people's attempts to make the most of the opportunities presented to them in distant labour markets. While aiming to improve their economic and material conditions, migrants have created a new transnational community that has undergone significant changes in…


Book cover of Chinese Senior Migrants and the Globalization of Retirement

Michele Ruth Gamburd Why did I love 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. 

By Nicole Dejong Newendorp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chinese Senior Migrants and the Globalization of Retirement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 21st century has seen growing numbers of seniors turning to migration in response to newfound challenges to traditional forms of retirement and old-age support, such as increased longevity, demographically aging populations, and global neoliberal trends reducing state welfare. Chinese-born migrants to the U.S. serve as an exemplary case of this trend, with 30 percent of all migrants since 1990 being at least 60 years old. This book tells their story, arguing that they demonstrate the significance of age as a mediating factor that is fundamentally important for considering how migration is experienced. The subjects of this study are situated…


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

Michele Ruth Gamburd Why did I love 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. 

By Sarah E. Lamb (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aging and the Indian Diaspora as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The proliferation of old age homes and increasing numbers of elderly living alone are startling new phenomena in India. These trends are related to extensive overseas migration and the transnational dispersal of families. In this moving and insightful account, Sarah Lamb shows that older persons are innovative agents in the processes of social-cultural change. Lamb's study probes debates and cultural assumptions in both India and the United States regarding how best to age; the proper social-moral relationship among individuals, genders, families, the market, and the state; and ways of finding meaning in the human life course.


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


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