Parental migration and the mental health of those who stay behind to care for children in South-East Asia

Elspeth Graham, Lucy P. Jordan, Brenda S.A. Yeoh

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    36 Citations (Scopus)
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    The international migration of parents from the global south raises questions about the health impacts of family separation on those who stay behind. This paper uses data collected in 2008 and 2009 for a project on Child Health and Migrant Parents in South-East Asia (CHAMPSEA) to address a largely neglected research area by investigating the mental health of those who stay behind in Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam to care for the children of overseas migrants. A mixed-methods research design is employed to answer two questions. First, whether carers in transnational (migrant) households are more likely to suffer mental health problems than those in non-migrant households; and secondly, whether transnational family practices and characteristics of migration are associated with mental health outcomes for stay-behind carers. The Self-Reporting Questionnaire (SRQ-20) was completed by carers in selected communities (N = 3026) and used to identify likely cases of common mental disorders (CMD). Multivariate logistic regression and thematic analysis of qualitative interviews (N = 149) reveal a nuanced picture. All stay-behind carers in the Indonesian sample are more likely than carers in non-migrant households to suffer CMD. Across the three study countries, however, it is stay-behind mothers with husbands working overseas who are most likely to experience poor mental health. Moreover, infrequent contact with the migrant, not receiving remittances and migrant destinations in the Middle East are all positively associated with carer CMD, whereas greater educational attainment and greater wealth are protective factors. These findings add new evidence on the ‘costs’ of international labour migration and point to the role of gendered expectations and wider geopolitical structures. Governments and international policy makers need to intervene to encourage transnational family practices that are less detrimental to the mental health of those who stay behind to care for the next generation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)225-235
    Number of pages11
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    Early online date1 Nov 2014
    Publication statusPublished - May 2015


    • Parental migration
    • Transnational household
    • Carer
    • Mental health
    • South-East Asia
    • Family practices
    • Gender
    • Geopolitical contex


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