Productive aging in developing Southeast Asia: Comparative analyses between Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand

from Social Science & Medicine at on September 29, 2018 at 04:04PM

Publication date: Available online 28 September 2018

Source: Social Science & Medicine

Author(s): Bussarawan Teerawichitchainan, Vipan Prachuabmoh, John Knodel


Alarmist views regarding the burden that older persons pose for family and society are prevalent; yet, such views are not necessarily warranted. To fill the research gap, this study examines prevalence and differentials in later-life productive engagement in developing Southeast Asia with a focus on the roles of educational attainment and gender. Based on analyses of recent aging surveys in Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand, we assess three major dimensions of productive engagement among persons aged 60 and above, i.e. their economic activity, assistance to family members, and caregiving. Results suggest that elders in all three countries make important contributions to their families–consistent with Southeast Asia’s prevailing norm of reciprocity in intergenerational support. Across the three countries, assistance in household chores is the most common contribution that older persons make, followed by caregiving and economic activity. We find that education is an important factor influencing productive aging. For example, elderly Thais with some educational attainment are more likely than those without any education to participate in the labor force and in turn are able to provide financial assistance to their children. Across the three countries, we find gender differences in later-life productive engagement. While older women tend to provide non-economic contributions to family, older men provide economic contributions more than their female counterparts. Our cross-country comparison additionally indicates that societal contexts such as economic development are likely to have important implications for the extent of productive engagement among older persons with different levels of educational attainment. We discuss policy implications of our empirical findings.