Over the past decades, Canada has witnessed a growing number of immigrants and aging populations. Living arrangement is a pressing issue for older adults as their health and income decline with age. The concept of “aging in place” has been adopted as an attainable policy goal for supporting older adults to remain safe, independent, and comfortable in their home environments. However, since many immigrant older adults underwent a stressful settlement experience adjusting to a new society, aging in a familiar place may not be a viable option for them. Guided by intersectionality and life course perspectives, we aim to explore the experiences of living arrangements among Chinese immigrant older adults in Canada. Specifically, the study focused on how social locations intersect with critical life events and structural factors in shaping their living arrangements.
The study is based on a sub-sample of a larger project focusing on the experiences of Chinese immigrants in Toronto, Canada. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 70 Chinese immigrants from diverse backgrounds in the larger project. For the current study, participants aged 65 and over who immigrated to Canada in adulthood were included, yielding 34 participants in this study. Around half of the participants were women, and the average age was 80 years old. Three-quarters of the participants were naturalized Canadians. The interviews were conducted in Mandarin or Cantonese by trained interviewers and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed using a thematic analytical approach to consider theoretical pre-defined categories and new concepts emerging from the data.
Our findings reveal an overarching pattern of a dynamic aging process and living arrangement among Chinse immigrant older adults in Canada. We term this phenomenon “aging between places.” Three interpretive themes were identified through the analytical process. First, living arrangement was tied to gendered caretaking role, policy to grant residence status, and life stage at immigration. For immigrant women, it is common to live in a family-rented or owned house and provide care for grandchildren. Many of them went back and forth between Canada and their places of origin before permanently settling down. On the contrary, immigrant men often live in self-owned property independently or with their spouses. They often immigrated to Canada during working age and obtained citizenship status. Second, Chinese immigrant older adults actively created a sense of home through their community involvement, such as volunteering and employment. Lastly, to maintain a closed family bond and reconnect with a familiar living environment, many Chinese immigrant older adults made several travels between Canada and their countries of origin every year.
Conclusion and Implications
The intersection of social locations and life course factors shapes the dynamic living arrangement and aging process among Chinese immigrant older adults in Canada. Future policies need to move beyond from viewing immigrant older adults as merely benefit receivers to adapting an active aging perspective and providing more opportunities for community participation. Future research could expand our understanding of the dynamic relationships between aging and space among immigrant older adults from different ethnoracial backgrounds.