Print this Page. Send this Page.

Ageing in Urban Nepal – Perspectives of Senior Citizens on Migration, Urbanization and Social Change

Roberta Mandoki, M.A.

Senior woman and younger friend discussing urban changes in the Kathmandu Valley (photo: R. Mandoki, 2014)

This subproject explored the changing perspectives on ageing in the middle-class in Kathmandu, emphasizing the rapid urban changes as well as shifting family structures as intergenerational relations are strongly influenced by the increasing migration within Nepal and abroad. Since a national social security scheme for senior citizens was introduced in the mid-1990’s age-related issues have entered the political agenda and have also become more visible in public discourse.

The project examined how middle-class senior citizens perceive ageing in a developing, post-civil war country where poverty is a ubiquitous issue and politics continue to be unsteady and in which ways they were influenced by the presence of international development organizations in Kathmandu and their long-term commitment in Nepal.

The research looked into how traditional notions of family and ageing as well as religious concepts on the life course meet with social change and ongoing migration. In Nepal, families have traditionally been living in a joint family system, and intergenerational relations have been shaped by patrilinearity and filial piety. Since many young Nepalese seek for better work or study prospects abroad, transnational family structures are on the rise, and alternative institutions for long-distance care such as old-age homes or day-care centers may increasingly be needed. Using ethnographic methods, the changes in the everyday life of the senior citizens and the increasing role of alternative social networks were investigated.

The subproject also focused on the specific situation of older persons in the urban environment of the Kathmandu Valley, and the influences of urbanization on their perspectives on ageing. Like many other urban areas in Asia, the Kathmandu Valley has changed dramatically during the last decades. The mainly unplanned growth and establishment of numerous new settlements has led to poor infrastructure and severe pollution. In the traditional Newari architecture of the Kathmandu Valley, public spaces such as open squares, temples and meeting places were an important part of town planning. These public spaces in the ancient Newari city centers are still widely used by the local population, but there is no equivalent common space to strengthen social ties in the later-built settlements. Using the example of a recently established Senior Citizens Day-Care Center, this subproject highlighted the creation of new social institutions and the role of social commitment in the life of middle-class senior citizens.

This ethnographic case study gave insights on transcultural flows of age concepts and imaginaries exchanged between the Nepali society, international development agencies and the Nepali diaspora. Through its focus on migration and urbanization effects, it developed a more diverse picture on ageing in Nepal.