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Are elderly immigrants meeting the challenges of successful aging? Review of literature on the aging of elderly migrants in France

Aurélien Martineau et Mathilde Plard
Traduction de Alvin Harberts
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les personnes âgées immigrées à l’épreuve du Successful Aging

Résumé

Since the mid-20th century, scientists have constantly examined the conditions for healthy aging. Successful Aging as a paradigm has gradually spread far beyond the scientific sphere. Access to « successful-aging » has become a collective purpose as a policy reference in our contemporary societies. As people get older in their host country, immigrants have to conform to the dominant gerontological models. Therefore, the « success » of elderly migrants’ aging in France represents a political and public health objective. This article aims at examining the links between migration and aging in order to better understand the social and spatial issues associated with the elderly immigrants « successful-aging » in France. To deal with this problem, a literature review on the aging conditions of immigrants in France (based on a corpus of 75 references) was completed. This article combines the results of this state of the art by analyzing the situations of elderly migrants through two of the main components of Successful Aging (1. Their health status and 2. Their social networks and commitment in social life). The results demonstrate that the « success » of aging is more complex for elderly migrants compared to the normative ideal of « successful-aging ». While it is necessary to avoid a generalized view of their situations, the living conditions in France and the discontinuities encountered expose some of these groups to significant difficulties in old age. Research in geography is necessary to spatialize the different aging experiences of immigrants within their own territories.
Key-words : aging, migration, elderly, health

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Notes de la rédaction

This article is the translation of: Les personnes âgées immigrées à l’épreuve du Successful Aging

Texte intégral

Introduction

1At both the French and global levels, ageing is one of the major issues of the 21st century (Dumont, 2005). In our Western societies, there has never before been such a high proportion of people reaching such an advanced age in their lives (Caradec, 2007). In France, 24% of the population was aged 60 or over in 20141. According to INSEE2 demographic projections, by 2050, the proportion of people aged 60 or over should reach nearly 32% of the French population. In this context, the economic, health and social challenges are unprecedented and are leading to multiple transformations for French society. The various reports, programmes and laws successively initiated testify to the seriousness of the issues surrounding the current and future support for the ageing of the population in France.

  • 3 According to the definition of the High Council for Integration adopted in 1990, an immigrant perso (...)
  • 4 Concerning the ageing of the immigrant population, the age threshold of 55 years and over correspon (...)

2Among the groups comprising the elderly population in France, immigrants3 are also ageing and the growth in the number of elderly immigrants is a social issue in itself (Rafaï et al, 2007). In 2013, 1,886,000 immigrants4 were 55 years of age or older. In the same year, a total of 18,228,000 people were aged 55 and over in France, meaning one in ten people aged 55 and over was an immigrant. However, geographically, ageing immigrants are very unevenly distributed throughout the country. These audiences are over-represented in priority districts of urban policy and in older urban centres (Jacquat, Bachelay, 2013). Similarly, some immigrants are ageing in plural living spaces between France and their country of origin, implementing regular transmigration practices (Attias-Donfut and Wolff, 2005).

3Thus, immigrants are ageing on the national territory and this situation is not recent. Indeed, for nearly 40 years, the scientific field and civil society have been interested in the ageing and ageing conditions of the immigrant population. Under the initial impetus of the voluntary sector (Dubus and Braud, 2001), scientific research will develop and gradually a shift will take place "from the scientific field to the political field" (Emsellem, 2007, para. 4). In the 2000s, the public authorities took up this social problem, as the myth of return faded in the face of the long-term settlement of a majority of immigrants in France. Now approaching the threshold of old age, immigrants' ageing experiences are marked by a great plurality of situations depending on the origins and life paths of individuals. The literature on elderly migrants thus oscillates between acknowledging their roots in France (Attias-Donfut, 2006) and examining the singular and early fragilities that some of them experience with their advanced age (Samaoli, 2011).

  • 5 For example, the inclusion of the issue of the ageing of immigrants is very limited in the guiding (...)

4Among these multidisciplinary studies, few geographers have linked immigrants' experiences with the ageing process. The development of additional research is therefore necessary to address the virtual absence of the spatial dimension in the proposed analyses. Territorial issues are indeed very present and question the support of ageing immigrant populations at the level of territories of action, communities and institutions. Depending on their greater or lesser presence and their (in)visibility in space, territorial disparities exist in the medico-social and gerontological offer for these audiences5.

5As they age in the host country, immigrants are led to conform to dominant gerontological models. The recent transformation of French gerontological policies has gradually shifted towards a preventive approach, promoting the Anglo-Saxon model of “Successful aging”. In France, this is reflected in the advent of aging well in public policy speeches and recommendations. Like non-immigrant people, the success or otherwise of the ageing of immigrants is a public policy objective. What about the situation of these groups with regard to their access to aging well as envisaged in the context of ageing policies? Do they have the opportunity to age and age well in conditions similar to non-migrants?

6According to socio-anthropologist Sylvie Carbonnelle, the scientific literature on elderly migrants analyses their living conditions and ageing more from the perspective of "the sociology of immigration (exile, precariousness, otherness, interculturality) than the sociology of ageing" (2013, p. 3). Faced with this observation, studying the ageing experiences of immigrants by convening one of the main paradigms of the gerontological field can prove to be fruitful and all the more necessary in view of the dominant position of the normative model of "aging well" within French policies. This is an opportunity to grasp the possible specificities, similarities and disparities that immigrants face in their experience of ageing compared to non-immigrant people. The aim here is to question the impact that the discontinuities encountered over the course of the migrants' own life can have for these populations. To this end, the theory of Successful Aging and the concepts associated with it (aging well or active aging, etc.) represent a relevant prism for qualifying the experiences and living conditions of these populations. From a critical perspective, it is important to revisit the emergence of this paradigm, spreading a liberal and normative vision of old age that must be successful, by preventing "bad" ageing.

7This article examines the social and spatial issues associated with the "aging well" of elderly migrants in France. With this objective in mind, in the face of the rise of the normative injunction on "aging well", the situations of immigrant seniors will be analysed in the light of the gerontological paradigm of Successful Aging, on which French discourse and public policies are based. The proposal is divided into two parts: first, the relationships between ageing, migration and Successful Aging will be developed to outline a definition of Successful Aging based on its main components. With this in mind, we will analyse the theoretical foundations of this paradigm, while understanding how it has gradually established itself in France. We will also examine how the migratory experience represents an exposure factor that can complicate the possibilities of access to "aging well" for immigrants in France. In a second step, the situation of immigrant seniors with regard to Successful Aging will be analysed on the basis of a review of the literature on the ageing conditions of elderly immigrants in France. To this end, the main results of the literature review will be studied through the two main components of Successful Aging (i.e. health status on the one hand (1), social networks and active engagement in social life on the other hand (2)).

Aging and Successful Aging: migration and its effects on "aging well"

Successful Aging: the key components of the paradigm

Emergence of a paradigm, the search for key components

  • 6 John Rowe and Robert Kahn oppose the existence of a "normality" of aging that would correspond to a (...)

8The concept of Successful Aging developed in the wake of the debates that have been going on in gerontology since the 1950s between the theory of disengagement (which assumes that older people experience a withdrawal, a progressive disengagement from the bonds that unite them to society) and the theory of activity (which assumes that successful ageing would require a voluntarist attitude and the maintenance of activities and social roles for as long as possible). Following on from the theory of activity, John Rowe and Robert Kahn (1987; 1997) propose a Successful Aging theory according to which "aging well is a state, an objective and measurable condition at a given time, a better state than that of normal aging6" (Gangbé and Ducharme, 2006, p. 299). For John Rowe and Robert Kahn, three fundamental components structure Successful Aging:

  1. The first concerns health and a low probability of illness and disability due to illness.

  2. The second refers to the functional and cognitive capacities maintained at a high level.

  3. The third is related to social engagement and suggests that strong involvement in relational and occupational life (physical, social, domestic activities, etc.) is favourable to Successful Aging (Lalive d'Épinay and Spini, 2007).

9In this theoretical model, the environment, living conditions, decisions and lifestyles are decisive variables. Ageing conditions are also strongly related to "choices made by each individual in earlier stages of their life course" (Kaeser and Roch, 2013, p. 6). The work of John Rowe and Robert Kahn has been most widely disseminated and publicized, well beyond the scientific sphere.

  • 7 Margret and Paul Baltes propose in their work the example of Arthur Rubinstein to illustrate these (...)

10In a psychosocial approach, the work of Margret Baltes and Paul Baltes (1990) on Successful Aging will stress the importance of a relational and dynamic perspective by developing the selection - optimization - compensation model. This model, which is not focused on proposing a definition of successful aging, has a strong scientific resonance, but focuses on adaptive processes that contribute to successful aging (Hummel, 2002). Selection refers to the individual's objectives, his or her priority projects in this period of his or her life, and the fact that it can be elective (based on choice) or negative (based on loss) (Freund and Baltes, 2003). Optimization then represents the means to apply these objectives in the best possible conditions. Compensation comes as a last resort through the adoption of alternative means when the initial means can no longer be used or have no effect7.

11In the continuity of this work, research on the components or models of Successful Aging will develop and continue to feed the gerontological literature today. According to researchers and disciplines, the focus may have been on finding objective indicators or on assessing individuals' perceptions of the success of their aging. The consultation of various literature reviews on Successful Aging (Bowling and Dieppe, 2005; Martin et al, 2014) illustrates the multiplicity of dimensions that researchers believe contribute to the success of aging (Table 1). Nevertheless, this work also highlights the difficulty of defining this notion in a set of indicators.

Table 1. The main components of Successful Aging according to Bowling and Dieppe (2005)

Main components of Successful Aging

Theoretical definitions
- Life expectancy
- Personal satisfaction and well-being (including happiness and contentment)
- Mental and psychological health, cognitive function
- Personal development, learning new things
- Physical and functional health, functional independence
- Psychological characteristics and resources, including perceived autonomy, control, independence, adaptability, self-esteem, positive vision, life goals
- Social, community, leisure, integration and participation
- Social networks, support, participation, activity

Additional components
- Achievements / accomplishments
- Food enjoyment
- Financial security
- Neighbourhood, proximity relationship
- Physical appearance
- Productivity and contribution to life
- Sense of humour
- Sense of duty
- Spirituality

Source: Bowling and Dieppe, 2005, (p.1549)

From ideological foundations to an impossible definition

12By questioning the notion of Successful Aging, one cannot forget the diffusion of this paradigm in France on the political and institutional level. The notion of Successful Aging has indeed accompanied the evolution and metamorphosis of representations associated with old age, its media coverage having had the effect of promoting a positive vision of the aging process. In France, this notion is reflected in the political and institutional fields by the concepts of "successful ageing", "aging well" and, by extension, "active ageing". As Thibauld Moulaert and Jean-Philippe Viriot Durandal (2013) demonstrate, the term active ageing in particular has gradually acquired the status of a frame of reference for public action, becoming the dominant paradigm for thinking about social policies on old age at the European Union level (Walker and Maltby, 2012).

  • 8 Website URL link: www.pourbienvieillir.fr
  • 9 Successful aging is defined in the Healthy aging action plan as follows: "Successful aging is a pro (...)

13In the 2000s, ageing policies in France focused on two target groups in particular: dependent persons and "active, supportive seniors, called upon to embody the Successful Aging model" (Gucher 2012, 148). The dissociation between the field of dependence and the field of prevention (Alvarez, 2014) will result, for the preventive side, in the development of gerontological programmes and plans around "aging well". A first national programme entitled "Aging Well" will be initiated in 2003 and will be extended by the implementation of the 2007-2009 national plan "Aging Well". With the notion of "aging well" now firmly rooted in the political arena, it will be included in government reports produced as part of the major national debate on addiction in 2011 (Boulmier, 2010; Ladoucette 2011). Actors in the gerontological field will also take part in the promotion of "aging well" through multiple initiatives, such as the creation of the "Pour bien vieillillir"8 prevention site by the pension funds and Public Health France (formerly INPES). At the European Union level, the concepts of active and successful ageing will be promoted, firstly through the 2004-2007 Healthy Ageing Action Plan (proposing a definition of successful ageing9), but also by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union: in 2012 a European Year for Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity was thus established. Speeches, policy recommendations and gerontological programmes will therefore gradually consolidate and establish the preventive strategy of "aging well" in France. If the political intentions consist in particular in combating the negative representations associated with old age, it is also a question of promoting, according to the geriatrician Jean-Pierre Aquino, president of the national plan "to age well", "virtuous behaviours by encouraging the population to adopt them" (Aquino, 2012, p. 274), among which we find food, physical and mental activities, social commitments and participation, etc.

  • 10 For example, as Senator André Trillard stated in 2012 following the report produced as part of the (...)

14Behind the scenes, the normative shift initiated by the promotion of "aging well" will result in a normalisation of behaviour (Billé, 2009), the “aging well” national plan representing for Stéphane Alvarez "a plan to normalise lifestyles in old age" (2014, p. 135). Like Successful Aging, the use of the concept of "aging well" is imbued with neoliberal principles, which aim to minimize the resources and public interventions allocated to the care of the elderly10, while maximizing the efforts and empowerment of individuals and their families (private sphere) to prevent health problems and decline in old age (Rozanova, 2010). Individuals must therefore conform to the model of "aging well" (Kaeser and Roch, 2013), under the guise of promoting a positive vision of old age. The phenomenon of gerontologism therefore reflects the development of this overly positive and stereotyped perspective of old age, in contrast to ageism and its negative and deficit representations of aging (Lalive d'Épinay and Spini, 2007). Moreover, the vocabulary adopted is very revealing of the ideology underlying the use of these notions. “Ageing well" or "successful ageing" implies the existence of "failed" ageing or "bad" ageing, as individuals must succeed in old age at the risk of being held responsible for their "bad" ageing. In everyday language, success is used to evaluate the results of actions taken by individuals, or the results of an organization or collective entity. The transposition towards the evaluation of individual pathways in old age is problematic and confronts older people with paradoxical injunctions: "Remain active, while withdrawing", or "live old, but stay young" (Alvarez 2014, 209).

15The dissemination of the work on Successful Aging and its appropriation by the political and institutional sphere have ultimately had the effect of "strengthening[r] the normative logic and the injunction to age well" (Puijalon and Trincaz, 2014) among the general public. The implementation of a "aging well" policy is nevertheless inspired by older English-language literature, with the "virtuous" behaviours advocated being part of the components of Successful Aging previously identified. This has therefore generated selective and restrictive applications of these gerontological theories outside the scientific field.

16In the scientific field, research into the components of Successful Aging is ongoing and integrates the various limits and pitfalls previously developed from a critical perspective. However, there is currently no scientifically agreed definition. For Satu Elo, however, a consensus is emerging in the scientific community to characterize Successful Aging: "there is a general consensus that Successful Aging includes freedom from chronic disease and the ability to continue to function effectively, both physically and mentally, in old age" (2015, p. 19). Ultimately, depending on disciplinary positions, the study of Successful Aging intertwines different biomedical or psychosocial approaches (Martin et al., 2014). In order to operationalize the possibility of assessing the situations of elderly migrants in relation to this paradigm, our study chooses two main components corresponding to the consensus described by S. Elo and drawing on the work of Robert Kahn and John Rowe. Health status will be the first key component in understanding Successful Aging, the second component will be related to social networks and engagement in social life. These two components, developed below, will make it possible to question the ageing experiences of elderly immigrants with regard to Successful Aging:

  • Health status (physical, cognitive and perceived health status): Health is a substantial dimension of Successful Aging. Health is understood here in a broad sense and is not just a biomedical concept. It includes the state of physical, functional and psychological health, but also the well-being perceived by individuals.

  • Social networks and engagement in life (family and social ties, activities in daily life, social involvement): the evaluation of Successful Aging in a relational perspective involves evaluating the supports and resources on which older people can or cannot rely as they age. Engagement in life and social networks can be associated with a dimension of Successful Aging that studies the activities and relationships of the individual in his or her environment.

Migration and access to Successful Aging

A shared injunction, an increased vulnerability

17The laws, programmes and plans implemented by public authorities, through the categorizations they construct, draw up an ageing model representing an ideal to be achieved for individuals (Trincaz and Pujalon, 2014). SImilarly to the non-immigrant population, the "active ageing" or "aging well" of immigrants has been one of the challenges of gerontological policies and programmes since the early 2000s. For example, as part of the 2007-2009 "aging well" national plan, the French government has encouraged the implementation of targeted experiments, particularly for elderly migrants (Ministry of Health, 2007). Similarly, in 2011, the European Union issued recommendations on preventing the risks of vulnerability of elderly migrants and improving their well-being. The Committee of Ministers to Member States has highlighted the importance of the role of "active ageing of elderly migrants (...) migrants who are no longer economically active should be encouraged by public authorities to participate in and contribute voluntarily to community activities in order to transfer their knowledge, skills and experience" (Jacquat and Bachelay, 2013, p. 171).

18According to these examples, elderly migrants are exposed to normative models of "aging well" and "active ageing". However, do these groups have the same opportunities to access "aging well" as non-immigrants? Following the example of Claudio Bolzman (2015) who studies the case of Switzerland, it is possible to question the issue of the democratization of old age for immigrants in France. To what extent are people who have migrated during their lifetime likely to age in similar socio-economic and health conditions to non-immigrant people? This questioning can be transposed to the "aging well" as envisaged in public policies, because immigrants would be more exposed to the difficulties associated with aging. For example, in the recent parliamentary report of 2013 on elderly migrants in France, the fact-finding mission noted that "low resources are one of the main obstacles to "aging well" and to a large extent explains the difficulties faced by many immigrants who are now elderly" (Jacquat and Bachelay, 2013, p. 54). While the possibilities of access to "aging well" appear more complex for immigrants, this situation must be analysed in the light of their background and the living conditions they still experience today in France.

19The changes in French gerontological thinking and the development of a preventive strategy inspired by the theories of Successful Aging, induce in practice that individuals have sufficient economic and social capital, which generally results from a continuity in life trajectories (without major disruption in biographical paths). However, such an association between "aging well" and biographical, socio-cultural and geographical continuity is all the more complex for elderly immigrants, as they have not had full control over all their life paths and living conditions in the host country. Indeed, unlike non-immigrant persons, the primary specificity in the life courses of immigrant persons is their experience of international migration. As Claudine Attias Donfut expresses it, "they share their international mobility and often transnational practices that make them agents of important intercultural exchanges" (2012, p. 460). This migratory experience affects all migrants' journeys by influencing the various biographical trajectories of individuals (family, professional, relational, health, etc.). The long-term consequences of the migratory event then have the effect of making elderly migrants "a priori more vulnerable than the national population in retirement" (Kaeser and Roch, 2013, p. 20). The migration experience thus generates multiple changes in people's journeys, which have a lasting influence on the living conditions of these groups until later ages (Phillipson and Ahmed, 2006). For Sandra Torres, "it is not necessarily the origin of elderly migrants that is interesting, but the fact that they have migrated and that they therefore lead a life characterized by interruptions: it is discontinuity that predominates, not continuity, that most social gerontologists consider essential for aging well" (2008, p. 25). Studying the conditions of ageing of the immigrant population therefore requires attention to the uses that can be made of gerontological concepts. In this sense, they can be reinterpreted in the light of the unique experiences of ageing elderly migrants. According to the discontinuities experienced by elderly immigrants, this will have "consequences on the adaptations made in the environment and in the last part of their lives and requires rethinking and reassessing the theoretical models of gerontology, which often include a degree of linear evolution over the whole of life" (ibid, p. 25).

Exposure to plural cultural contexts as a barrier to "aging well"?

20The rooting of the paths of elderly migrants in potentially plural cultural contexts is a key factor in assessing the "aging well" of these groups. The biographical trajectories of immigrants have become established in different areas of life between France and the country of origin. The notion of hybridity of migrants' experience then describes immigrants' frequent exposure to "multiple and sometimes contradictory cultural values, attitudes and conceptions, and[the fact] that they must arbitrate between them when deciding on their position and/or giving their opinion" (ibid, p. 27). The consideration of hybridity is all the more interesting as gerontological theories and Successful Aging can be implicitly positioned according to a single culture. Indeed, the geographical origin of researchers influences the production of gerontological theories, revealing a cultural opposition between the Western vision and other conceptions (Gangbè and Ducharme, 2006). This is particularly evident in conventional theories through "an unconscious overflow of the values of middle-aged Western white men, such as productivity, efficiency and independence" (Tornstam, 1992, cited by Balard, 2013, p. 79). In view of the plural cultural contexts with which elderly migrants may have been in contact during their lifetime, representations of age, old age and what "aging well" would be can therefore be very different. Exposure to these contexts and the norms and values that compose them is therefore crucial in studying immigrants' access to "aging well", as conceptions of old age and support for the elderly may vary from one country to another.

21A hypothesis must be formulated here: the migratory event represents a "turning point" in the life courses of individuals that can expose them to greater difficulties in old age. The notion of "turning point" is complementary to the notions of transition and event. For Stephano Cavalli, "certain events or transitions are particularly crucial and can influence the life trajectory: they are then identified as turning points (Elder, 1998; Rutter, 1996), i.e. moments during which existence significantly changes direction or becomes discontinuous" (2006, p. 23). The migratory experience would therefore represent a "turning point" generating interruptions in the life course of immigrants, with lasting repercussions in the long term and even in old age.

22As ageing immigrants are exposed to "aging well", in a logic of individual responsibility, what is their situation with regard to this gerontological paradigm? What are their chances of accessing and - by extension - complying with the normative dimensions of "aging well"? In our study, "aging well" will be limited to the two components previously selected. The answers to these questions will be based on a review of the scientific and professional literature on the ageing conditions of immigrants in France.

The components of Successful Aging in the literature test on elderly migrants in France

23The situations of immigrant seniors will be examined in the light of the two main components of Successful Aging retained in the first part of the article (1. Health status; 2. Social networks and involvement in life). The analysis of the results of the literature will provide elements of understanding on the situations of immigrant seniors in the light of the components of the gerontological paradigm called for. Before presenting the results of these two components, a summary portrait presenting significant data on the situation of elderly migrants in France will be developed.

Methodological insert :

The literature review on the ageing conditions of immigrants in France was carried out on the basis of a corpus of 75 titles (articles and scientific works, State and institutional reports, professional and specialised articles) from various fields of study (sociology, demography, gerontology, geography, etc.). The bibliographic data were integrated into the corpus following a systematic search by keywords representative of the research theme (e. g. immigrant seniors, elderly migrants, aging migrants, migration and aging, etc.). This research was carried out on different platforms for sharing scientific works (CAIRN, Érudit, Persée, Isidore, Worldcat) and through the consultation of thematic bibliographies on the subject.
The references were integrated into a qualitative analysis software (Nvivo 10). The analysis was then based on a thematization process that "constitutes the central operation of the method, namely the transposition of a given corpus into a number of themes representative of the analyzed content. Thematic analysis consists, in this sense, in the systematic discursive examination of the themes addressed in a corpus" (Paillé and Mucchielli, 2012, p. 162).

Framing data: who are the elderly migrants?

Demographic composition and ageing of immigrants

24We have seen that the aging of the immigrant population has been the subject of growing attention in France for several decades. The multiplication of scientific work and recent reports by the National Assembly and various institutions (Chiron, Meslin, 2005; Soumeur-Méreau, 2014) provide figures that attest to the magnitude of the challenges that accompany the arrival of these groups at the threshold of old age.

25Demographically, the elderly immigrant population in France is increasing, from 1.2 million in 1999 to nearly 1.9 million in 2014 (Jacquat and Bachelay, 2013; INSEE 2017). However, unlike the non-immigrant population, the immigrant population is not - yet - affected by demographic ageing. This is due to the renewal of flows of young migrants (Jacquat and Bachelay, 2013), although there is a phenomenon of gerontological growth (increase in the number of elderly migrants in absolute terms, but not as a proportion of all immigrants).

26In 2014, 50% of migrants aged 55 or over were born in a European country and 30% in a Maghreb country (Graph 1, p 14). Due to the diversity of their geographical, social and cultural origins, elderly immigrants are not a homogeneous group with similar life experiences in France. This is illustrated by Anthony Warnes (2004) in proposing a typology on elderly migrants on a European scale to describe these plural situations, according to the reasons for migration (professional, family or convenience reasons), geographical origins (European or non-European) and the sex of the migrants.

Graph 1: Immigrants aged 55 or over by country of birth in 2014 in France (as a percentage of the total)

Graph 1: Immigrants aged 55 or over by country of birth in 2014 in France (as a percentage of the total)

Source : Insee, RP 2014.

Uneven spatial distribution in France

  • 11 Montreuil in Seine-Saint-Denis is a significant example in France, the city has twelve migrant work (...)

27From one department to another, from one city to another, the spatial diversity of the situations of elderly migrants appears in the open: a simple comparison of departmental data sheds light on these disparities (Table 2 and Map 1). Territorial contexts differ according to the greater or lesser presence of migrants in the population, but also according to differences in origins and situations (residential situations for example, with the greater or lesser presence of migrant workers' homes in some cities11). This unequal distribution is due to two main factors: first, the geographical proximity to the country of origin, and second, the distribution over the 20th century of economic activity on the national territory, i.e. the proximity of the employment areas in which immigrants have exercised their professional activity (INSEE, 2012).

Table 2 Elderly immigrant population in 2014 in France, departmental comparison.

  • 12 INSEE does not provide detailed data for the two shaded departments on the countries of birth of mi (...)

Department

Population (pop.)

Number of immigrants (imm.) aged 55 and over

Immigrant share in the population aged 55 and over

Dep ranking: imm share in the total share of 55 year olds and over

Most represented geographical origin ( %)

Cantal

146 618

1 027

1,7 %

96th

Europe: 76%.

Dordogne

416 350

12 546

7,3 %

50th

Europe: 83%12.

Lower Rhine

1 112 815

32 563

10,1 %

25th

18% Germany

13% Turkey

Seine-Saint-Denis

1 571 028

123 483

36,3 %

1st

21% Algeria

12% Portugal

Source: INSEE RP 2014.

Map 1. Distribution of immigrants among all persons aged 55 or over, by department in metropolitan France in 2014.

Map 1. Distribution of immigrants among all persons aged 55 or over, by department in metropolitan France in 2014.

Sources: IGN, INSEE RP 2014.

High socio-economic inequalities in retirement

28In France, a large part of the immigrant population arrived as a result of labour migration. Although some came as part of political asylum or family reunification procedures, a significant proportion emigrated during the 20th century to France to pursue a professional activity. Work was the cornerstone of the migration project, "work being what gives, in everyone's eyes, meaning, reason, and justification to this presence, which ideally should not have to be" (Sayad, 1993, p. 45).

29They then carried out their professional activities in diversified economic sectors in need of labour (construction, industry, metallurgy, automotive, etc.). Older migrants, more frequently than non-immigrants, have held strenuous and tiring jobs, with some of them confined to under-skilled positions. They may have encountered significant difficulties in their careers, which have sometimes been organized around periods of inactivity due to unemployment or sick leave (Bobbé, Ribert and Terray, 2013). In this portrait, we note in particular the limited access of women to permanent jobs (Attias-Donfut and Delcroix, 2004).

  • 13 According to the INSEE definition, a pensioner has a career considered complete if the period of in (...)
  • 14 In the PRI survey conducted in 2002-2003 among more than 6,000 migrants aged 55 to 70 living in Fra (...)

30For some migrants, the transition to retirement is accompanied by a reduction in their resources, which can undermine the existence of the most vulnerable among them. Elderly migrants have on average lower resources than non-immigrants and are over-represented among recipients of some social benefits (Jacquat and Bachelay, 2013). The information provided by the Director of the Caisse Nationale d'Assurance Vieillesse (CNAV) during the fact-finding mission on elderly migrants in 2013 gives an order of magnitude to the economic inequalities they face. However, the data provided correspond to foreigners residing in France, which includes immigrants, but also repatriated French nationals. In 2012, the amount of monthly pensions for foreign-born pensioners residing in France was 700 euros, compared to just over 1000 euros for pensions paid by the general scheme for a full career13. In the same year, of the 422,000 beneficiaries of the Solidarity Allowance for the Elderly (ASPA), a social benefit guaranteeing a minimum of resources for the elderly, 162,000, or nearly 40%, were born abroad (ibid, p. 231). These economic inequalities therefore represent a challenge in the ageing of elderly immigrants in order to ensure them a decent livelihood, allowing them to pursue their habits and lifestyles according to their situations (transmigratory practices14 for example and financial support for relatives residing in the country of origin).

  • 15 Estimates place the number of elderly migrants living in these accommodation facilities at nearly 3 (...)

31Elderly migrants residing in Migrant Workers' Homes (MWHs) or social residences15 also face the challenges of low economic resources. In 2007, retired and pre-retired immigrants living in the M.T.F. for 20 years or more had monthly resources of less than 450 euros (Bobbé, Ribert and Terray 2013, p. 70). This makes it more difficult to maintain their social and economic roles towards their relatives and families in their country of origin (Emsellem, 2007; Hmed, 2006; Meslin, 2010).

First component: the health status of elderly immigrants

The long-term consequences of the migratory route on health status

32The professional trajectories of ageing immigrants have been correlated with the more often precarious living conditions they have experienced. This has had the effect of permanently affecting their state of health. In the “Passage à la Retraite des Immigrés (P.R.I.)” survey (Attias-Donfut, 2006), one man in two reported having experienced health problems related to his professional activity or having had a work accident. Migrants were thus submitted to what the literature calls the "exhausted migrant effect". "The effect of the exhausted migrant[corresponds to] those people who are often recruited by the host country precisely because they were healthy, and therefore particularly employable[and who] find themselves very weakened at retirement age by years of hard work" (Bolzman and Vagni, 2015, p. 21). In this sense, after the age of 75, elderly immigrants report more often than non-immigrants that they suffer from a deterioration in their motor and cognitive functional state (psychological and behavioural problems) (Croguennec, 2012).

33Like non-immigrant people, ageing leads to a deterioration in the perceived health status of elderly migrants. Most of them report poor or very poor health, which increases as they age (Attias-Donfut and Tessier, 2005). Similarly, the longer the time spent in the host country, the more negative the perceived health level of elderly migrants will be. "This probably means that the more immigrants, male or female, are exposed to the effects of work[in France], the more their health tends to deteriorate" (ibid, p. 110). For Christelle Hamel and Muriel Moisy, there is a "deleterious effect of living conditions in the host country on the health of immigrants for elderly immigrants[which acts] to lead to the observation of a poorer health status of immigrants compared to non-immigrants" (2013, p. 7).

34Although their health status is on average worse, elderly migrants do not consume more care than the rest of the population (Attias-Donfut and Tessier, 2005). Some of them have "low use of preventive medical practices and often late use of care" (Soumeur-Méreau, 2014, p. 14). This low recourse is linked to phenomena of renunciation of access to healthcare mainly for financial reasons (mainly visible among elderly migrants from Africa) (Croguennec, 2012). Various factors further complicate access to care and health for some elderly immigrants, including lack of awareness of services and facilities, language, isolation and economic insecurity, all of which contribute to the premature ageing of this population.

Early loss of autonomy and reduced access to gerontological solutions

  • 16 "According to the DREES, the average age of dependent persons aged 60 and over born abroad is lower (...)

35The literature also highlights that the ageing of immigrants is characterised by an earlier entry into a situation of dependency than the non-immigrant population in France (HID-INSEE 2001 survey16). As early as the 2000s, the public authorities had identified the challenge of increasing the potential number of immigrants aged 60 and over in a situation of dependency by 2020 (Bas Théron and Michel, 2002). Similarly, for neurodegenerative diseases, the inadequacy of the diagnostic tools currently available is a factor that, according to Omar Samaoli (2011), deprives migrants of an early diagnosis. Family functioning can also hinder institutional management of the disease. Jenny Duchier and Jean Mantovani, studying the situations of North Africans with Alzheimer's disease, concluded that "culture is essentially manifested in the absence of demand, non-use and renunciation of existing services, on the pretext that the disorders of old age are primarily a private matter" (2015, p. 93). The representations of disease and dementia can also vary according to culture (Ngatcha-Ribert, 2015). Institutional care can therefore prove difficult to implement among elderly migrants, especially since Alzheimer's disease can lead to a decline in the use of their second language (French).

36Faced with dependency, elderly migrants therefore appear all the more vulnerable as some of them suffer from lack of resources (both financial and human) to meet new needs (Attias-Donfut 2012). This makes it more difficult to use gerontological support services when health conditions deteriorate significantly. Entering a situation of dependency also weakens the maintenance of social and spatial links with the country of origin. For transmigrants or those whose families live in the country of origin, loss of mobility is one of the markers of entry into old age and the end of life (Rafai et al, 2007). Since it is no longer possible or difficult to implement return trips to the country of origin, this period leads to the erosion or even breakdown of ties with family, relatives and the country of origin (Ridez et al. 2003; Fevotte and Amaouche 2009). "Loss of mobility can be very problematic for the future of people who find themselves confined to their place of residence "here", with sometimes very limited informal supports" (Rafaï et al. 2007, p. 63).

37At the end of the analysis of the first component, even if elderly migrants do not form a homogeneous group in terms of their health status, this indicator remains less favourable on average for elderly immigrants than for the rest of the non-immigrant population. Migration, exposure to a sometimes new cultural context and professional trajectories are all factors that have influenced the health status of immigrants in retirement. The precocity of their ageing and the fact that some of these groups become dependent on others exposes them to major difficulties as they age. For Omar Samaoli, taking into account the various forms of dependency faced by elderly migrants is nevertheless essential to prevent the risks of poor ageing of these people (Samaoli, 2012). The challenges associated with the end of life are all the more significant because they also jeopardize, or even break, the socio-spatial links with their country of origin, which some elderly migrants have tried to preserve throughout their lives.

Second component: Social networks and engagement in life

Social networks marked by family configurations

38Social networks provide support (social, emotional, physical) and substantial informal resources as people age. Elderly migrants, like non-immigrant persons, have them and can mobilize them unequally in their environment. The literature review highlights the fundamental role of the family in the relational networks of immigrants. However, family trajectories are extremely different depending on whether migrants came as a family or alone to France, and whether or not they were able to bring their families to the host country later on.

  • 17 When applying for family reunification, the applicant must provide proof that, for a family of 2 to (...)

39Many immigrants live with their families in France. In 2008, nearly 8 out of 10 elderly migrants lived in ordinary households with their relatives (Jacquat and Bachelay, 2013, p. 75). In 2010, the majority of immigrants aged 65 to 79 were couples without children. However, there are differences according to origin, with people in this age group of African origin living more frequently with one of their children (Imbert, 2014). Living with your spouse, living together or being close to your children can be a valuable help for ageing migrants, while their absence can be a real pain when the family is far away in the country of origin. For people whose families reside abroad, this may be all the more difficult because, depending on the country of origin, financial and geographical accessibility raises more or less barriers to carrying out transmigratory journeys (Emsellem, 2007). To cope with this distance, family reunification procedures can be carried out at the time of retirement. However, family reunification may not be feasible given the person's low income and housing conditions (Mezzouj, 2008). Elderly migrants cannot in some situations meet the conditions defined by law to ensure that the needs of the family are met17.

40In old age, the spouse, children and extended family are the main caregivers of elderly immigrants. Children (especially girls) play an essential role in helping parents in their daily lives (Attias-Donfut and Gallou, 2006). The reduced use of gerontological solutions for elderly migrants confirms the importance of the role of carers. Older immigrants have less frequent recourse to professional human assistance than non-immigrant persons, 5.7% compared to an average of 10.4% (Croguennec, 2012). Differences also exist here according to the migrants' country of origin, because "family mutual assistance appears to be more pronounced among people from non-European countries, particularly those from the East and North Africa" (Attias-Donfut and Gallou, 2006, p. 94). For elderly people of European origin, family support can be supplemented by professional help (home help, home nursing care) (Morra and Gucher, 2015). For elderly immigrants, on the other hand, such assistance may be exclusively the responsibility of families; "informal assistance responds to the Vietnamese family model in which it is unthinkable that parental care should be provided by foreigners" (Rafaï et al. 2007, p. 48). For Omar Samaoli (2011), the presence and support of the family among elderly migrants would explain why they would be very poorly represented in residential facilities for dependent elderly people in old age (other factors, particularly financial, would also justify the virtual absence of migrants within gerontological structures). On the other hand, such assistance can have consequences for the family and can have significant repercussions on family relationships and alter family ties in times of hardship, such as illness (Duchier and Mantovani, 2015; Pian, 2014). For example, cohabitation with an elderly sick parent in the children's home can upset the initial family balance and children may have to interrupt, even partially, their professional activity to care for their dependent relative.

The particularity of elderly migrants living alone in France

41For ageing isolated migrants, whose families have remained in the country of origin, the findings are different. Geographic celibacy (Bas Théron and Michel, 2002; Gallou, 2005) represents a way of life for some people. Whether they reside in Migrant Workers' Homes (M.W.H.) or in social residences, in the diffuse park or in another type of housing, elderly migrants then made frequent round trips to their relatives throughout their lives. For Alistair Hunter, these elderly migrants have been imprisoned in a "breadwinner" model, i.e. "a gendered and generation-specific model that persists in retirement, forcing some aging residents to perpetuate it, and thus becoming a barrier to a definitive return" (2015, p. 118). Through remittances and transmigration practices, these elderly migrants have built a form of compromise between their life alone in France for several decades and maintaining their parental and marital functions at a distance (Laacher, 2012). For some, staying in France after retirement is further constrained by their administrative situation. This is the case for people receiving social benefits which imply a compulsory time of presence during the year in France: this time varies according to the arrangements, in accordance with the principle of "territoriality" of social protection (Math, 2012). These persons then experience a form of temporary residence assignment in the host country. They cannot return permanently to their countries of origin or risk losing some or all of the resources granted by their social rights and thus no longer being able to fulfil their role as breadwinners. As a result, periods of repeated absences have a lasting impact on family and relationships (Gallou, 2005). The breakdown of family ties can then occur when the migrant is no longer able to provide money transfers and/or the ties are weakened. For those experiencing family breakdown, retirement represents a period of isolation, with significant social and psychological consequences (Emsellem, 2007).

Fluctuating activities, leisure activities and commitments depending on the origin

  • 18 Chibanis, literally "white hair" in dialectal Arabic, refers to elderly migrants of North African o (...)

42Finally, with regard to the activities and leisure activities in which elderly migrants can participate, there are significant differences depending on the countries of origin and the contexts in which immigrants live. The results of the Retirement of Immigrants survey highlight the progression of activities at the time of retirement in the family sphere (time spent with the family) and individual practices (media consumption and travel/vacation). The majority of the immigrants surveyed were also very rarely involved in voluntary or associative activities, a similar observation concerning the practice of cultural activities such as cinema, concerts and shows (Attias-Donfut, 2006). However, these findings should not be generalised to all immigrants, as studies on pensioners of European origin show that older people invest in activities and associations at the time of retirement (Fassio, 2015; Muñoz, 2000). Conversely, other studies show that these groups are not included in the activities offered to all retired people in a territory. This is what Linda Kali (2010) describes about the "Chibanis18", these Maghrebi retirees who favour activities between compatriots. "Dominoes, television, coffee shops, PMU have been used as vectors or places of entertainment. However, there is every reason to believe that migrants have not enjoyed leisure to the same extent as other families, including those from the same social background" (Chiron and Meslin, 2005, p. 49). Another example is that in migrant workers' homes, life is organized around daily activities (religion, meals, shopping, exchanges between residents), residents have few or no extra-home socio-cultural activities, some of them even none, in order to reserve "a large part of their budget for their families" (Emsellem, 2007, para.39). Daily practices outside housing are then concentrated in spaces open to the public (public benches, green spaces, bars) or semi-private nature (mosque, allotments) (Chiron and Meslin, 2005). Privileged social ties can develop between members of the community of origin, with the lack of mastery of the French language accentuating the complexity of maintaining relationships with non-immigrant people (Emsellem, 2007). The obstacles identified above should not, however, mask the multiple commitments that elderly migrants outside France preserve. Many of them maintain "activities and commitments that connect them to people and places outside the borders of the nation state in which they reside" (Attias-Donfut, Tessier and Wolff, 2005, p. 12). They can thus be strongly involved in associations working in their country of origin: development associations, village solidarity funds (Hunter, 2015).

43At the end of the analysis of the second component, the scientific literature highlights the importance of the role of the family as a support in the ageing of elderly immigrants. Family support is important to overcome the difficulties and weaknesses encountered in old age. However, some immigrant seniors also face the absence of their kin, which is a real pain with multiple consequences. When the family is settled in the country of origin, geographical and relational distance is all the more difficult to live with, since remaining in France through retirement may be more of an obligation than a personal choice. As for the involvement in the lives and activities of immigrant seniors, disparities exist according to origins and situations. However, commitment is perceived in the relations and activities maintained with the country of origin for some migrants.

Conclusion

44Establishing a diagnosis on the conditions of access to Successful Aging for immigrant seniors is a complex objective. To decide unequivocally on their lesser access to Successful Aging is risky in view of the social and cultural heterogeneity of these audiences. If they are "immigrant" and "elderly" in relation to existing categorizations, the literature review shows the extreme variability of situations according to individual experiences and trajectories. The main interest of this exercise is to highlight valuable information on living conditions, the challenges inherent in old age and the economic and social inequalities that older immigrants may experience.

45However, immigrants also face Successful Aging and the injunction of "aging well" since the spread and popularization of this paradigm in French society. Elderly migrants are responsible for their ageing conditions. In accordance with the Successful Aging paradigm and like non-immigrants, they should ideally, throughout their lives, "make the "right" choices that will allow them to age well" (Kaeser and Roch, 2013, p. 18). However, the discontinuities and ruptures encountered by elderly migrants during their journey have made it more difficult to respond to this normative model. The migratory experience and living conditions in the host country have had a lasting impact on their family situations and health conditions. However, we must not overlook the many adaptations that these audiences have had to make to overcome the challenges that have marked their lives. In old age, they may then benefit from greater personal resources (coping and resilience skills) to cope with the changes that await them. In this sense, the relational and dynamic models developed in the literature on Successful Aging, such as the selection - optimization - compensation model (Baltic and Baltic, 1990), are better able to capture the adjustments implemented by elderly migrants within their environment as they age.

46"Aging well" or aging better? This is the problem that emerges from this study. “Aging well" represents a normative ideal that may not correspond to the lived situations and wishes of elderly migrants. However, enabling them to "age better" is an imperative to support the ageing of some of these groups, which are facing significant difficulties. The results presented highlight in particular the social and spatial problems faced by immigrants in maintaining links with their country of origin as they age. The challenge is then to enable these audiences to age as they see fit on the one hand and to remove the obstacles that today also force a minority of them to spend the end of their lives in France, far away from their families. In addition, it seems necessary to protect oneself against a generalizing vision of elderly migrants and to fight against sometimes miserable and homogenizing representations associated with their situations (Carbonnelle, 2013). Similarly, it is important to be aware of how messages and preventive actions advocating the normative model of "aging well" can be received by individuals. The aim is to examine how older people, particularly elderly migrants, can react to the impossibility of implementing the "virtuous" behaviours recommended with regard to the inequalities and vulnerabilities that some of them experience. As Stéphane Alvarez expresses it, "prevention policies and action programmes set up as close as possible to the populations concerned can be received by the target audiences, or by some of them as instances and places of stigmatization. When people feel that they cannot achieve the objectives set" (2014, p. 308).

47To conclude, the results of the literature review highlight the importance of spatializing the ageing experiences of elderly migrants within the territories in which they live. From one territory to another, depending on the migratory history of these areas, the socio-demographic components of elderly migrants are highly variable (in terms of numbers and origins). Developing studies on different territories would in this sense aim to contextualize the plural situations of elderly migrants and identify their "needs" in a territorialized way. It would also make it possible to question the supports or resources that local authorities and institutions offer to support immigrants in old age.

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Notes

1 https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/1893204

2 https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/2582785?sommaire=2587886

3 According to the definition of the High Council for Integration adopted in 1990, an immigrant person is a person born abroad and residing in France. This definition implies that some of the immigrants are French since they have been able to acquire French nationality. The status of immigrant is therefore permanent, since a person continues to belong to the immigrant population even if he or she is of French nationality by acquisition.

4 Concerning the ageing of the immigrant population, the age threshold of 55 years and over corresponds to the oldest age threshold proposed by INSEE in the results of the population census.

5 For example, the inclusion of the issue of the ageing of immigrants is very limited in the guiding documents of social and gerontological action at the departmental level. A study by the National Committee of Retired and Elderly Persons in 2008 identified less than 10 departments that integrate elderly migrants into their gerontological scheme.

6 John Rowe and Robert Kahn oppose the existence of a "normality" of aging that would correspond to an increase in the risks of disability, illness and incapacity that would be associated with advancing age.

7 Margret and Paul Baltes propose in their work the example of Arthur Rubinstein to illustrate these three processes: this pianist, in order to cope with the fragilities encountered in later life, had reduced the number of pieces performed (selection), but worked on them more (optimization) while transforming the difficult passages to promote his success (compensation) (Hummel, 2002).

8 Website URL link: www.pourbienvieillir.fr

9 Successful aging is defined in the Healthy aging action plan as follows: "Successful aging is a process that aims to optimize equal opportunities for health to enable older people to participate actively in society and enjoy a quality of life that balances independence and well-being" (Gimbert, 2010, p. 29).

10 For example, as Senator André Trillard stated in 2012 following the report produced as part of the major national debate on addiction in 2011: "Aging well makes it possible both to be happier and to reduce the cost of addiction to society, so I sought to answer the question of how to organize this way of aging well so that it concerns everyone? "(Trillard, 2012, para. 6).

11 Montreuil in Seine-Saint-Denis is a significant example in France, the city has twelve migrant workers' homes or social residences on its territory. In Montreuil, 32% of the population aged 55 and over is an immigrant.

12 INSEE does not provide detailed data for the two shaded departments on the countries of birth of migrants aged 55 or over in 2014.

13 According to the INSEE definition, a pensioner has a career considered complete if the period of insurance in all the pension schemes to which he has contributed (in the example the general scheme) is longer than that required to obtain the full rate. This duration varies according to the year of birth (link - https://www.insee.fr/fr/metadonnees/definition/c1118).

14 In the PRI survey conducted in 2002-2003 among more than 6,000 migrants aged 55 to 70 living in France, 31% of all migrants surveyed made several annual stays in their country of origin or at least one annual stay of at least one month (Attias-Donfut and Wolff 2005).

15 Estimates place the number of elderly migrants living in these accommodation facilities at nearly 35,000 individuals, for just under 700 CTFs or social residences located mainly in urban centres in France (Jacquat and Bachelay, 2013).

16 "According to the DREES, the average age of dependent persons aged 60 and over born abroad is lower (by 2.5 years on average) than that of persons born in France" (Bas Théron and Michel, 2002, p. 38).

17 When applying for family reunification, the applicant must provide proof that, for a family of 2 to 3 persons, their average monthly income is at least equal to the minimum wage, i.e. €1,149.07, over the 12 months preceding the application. In view of the low level of retirement pensions, some elderly migrants are therefore not eligible for family reunification once they retire.

18 Chibanis, literally "white hair" in dialectal Arabic, refers to elderly migrants of North African origin.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Graph 1: Immigrants aged 55 or over by country of birth in 2014 in France (as a percentage of the total)
Crédits Source : Insee, RP 2014.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/33224/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 17k
Titre Map 1. Distribution of immigrants among all persons aged 55 or over, by department in metropolitan France in 2014.
Crédits Sources: IGN, INSEE RP 2014.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/33224/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 65k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Aurélien Martineau et Mathilde Plard, « Are elderly immigrants meeting the challenges of successful aging? Review of literature on the aging of elderly migrants in France », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Politique, Culture, Représentations, document 853, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2019, consulté le 18 novembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/33224 ; DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.33224

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Auteurs

Aurélien Martineau

UMR 6590, ESO-Angers, Université d’Angers, France
Post-doctorant en géographie sociale, aurelien.martineau@univ-angers.fr

Mathilde Plard

UMR 6590, ESO-Nantes, Université de Nantes, France
Chargée de recherches CNRS, mathilde.plard@univ-nantes.fr

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Licence Creative Commons
La revue Cybergeo est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 3.0 non transposé.

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