Ethnic minority elders face challenges adapting post-relocation, impacting their social participation, well-being, and integration into new communities.
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Enhancing social participation among ethnic minority elders after relocation

Ethnic minority elders face challenges adapting post-relocation, impacting their social participation, well-being, and integration into new communities.

Poverty Alleviation Relocation (PAR) was a Chinese government initiative implemented in the “tenth-five period” (2016-2020) to assist impoverished people living in resource-poor areas. At a press conference held by the Information Office of the State Council of China on 3 December 2020, the National Development and Reform Commission announced the successful completion of China’s poverty alleviation relocation task under the 13th Five-Year Plan.

More than 9.6 million registered poor residents have moved to new homes. The relocation initiative has achieved remarkable results in China, promoting the development of many underdeveloped ethnic minority areas. However, the relocation process also entails significant changes, adaptations, and reconstructions of the migrant population’s living spaces, posing great challenges. 

Regional characteristics

Gansu Province lies in northwestern China, at the convergence of three major plateaus: the Tibetan Plateau, the Inner Mongolian Plateau, and the Loess Plateau. Its complex and diverse topography makes it one of China’s most ecologically fragile regions. The research team selected two typical PAR sites in Linxia Prefecture, Gansu Province, and conducted household surveys and focus interviews. 

Linxia Autonomous Prefecture is one of China’s most impoverished regions. It is predominantly inhabited by former agricultural residents who relocated from nearby mountainous areas that lack public transport. They voluntarily resettled in newly developed communities as part of government-led initiatives.

Following After relocation, the production activities and living environment of the residents in the ethnic minority areas changed significantly. However, the impact of relocation differed between genders as psychological discomfort and social participation.

Ziyao Zhang

Challenges faced by minority elders in adaptation and social participation

In many ethnic minority areas in northwest China, early marriage and childbearing remain prevalent due to limited modernisation. The traditional Chinese concept of the elderly, defined as someone over 50 or a grandparent, is still deeply rooted. 

Elderly individuals who are less adaptable post-relocation encounter social, cultural, and economic challenges. Participating in various social activities during adaptation is necessary for them to settle down, integrate into society, and gain social recognition. Neglecting their social participation represents a shortfall in humanitarian care, conflicting with Chinese traditional values regarding the life cycle and respect for the elderly. It also contradicts the ethical values of cultural continuity. Addressing ethnic minority elders’ social participation in evolving environments is essential.

Types of social activities and participation

The social activities of ethnic minority elders can be divided into three main categories: family production, social production, and household and leisure activities. We analysed the changes in the structure and content of the social activities the elderly participated in. 

Firstly, after relocation, overall social participation among the elderly drops significantly. This results in a serious underutilisation of human resources, especially for families in less developed areas. Market work participation also declines rapidly in the “early elder stage” (between 51 and 60 years) and the “official elder stage” (between 61 and 70). 

Secondly, there has been a dramatic decline in family production activity, with a substantial increase in manual market work, household chores, and leisure activities. The characteristics of ethnic minorities have no direct influence on social participation. 

Thirdly, income and occupational disparities among these ethnic groups are not directly linked to their ethnic identities; rather, they relate more to other labour market characteristics such as age and skill level.

Gender differences in the social participation of ethnic minority elders

Following relocation, the production activities and living environment of residents in the ethnic minority areas changed significantly. Both elderly men and elderly women experienced reduced work activities. However, the impact differed between genders. Relocation had a more pronounced effect on the work activities of elderly men than women. Many elderly men reported that they were still capable of working but were limited by age and skill when seeking employment. Paid work is crucial for social engagement and serves as a foundation for participation in other social activities. 

The interviews revealed that many older men experienced anxiety, with some describing themselves as having “nothing to do”. As traditional family pillars, elderly men faced dual pressure from family and society as their work time decreased. This led to heightened psychological discomfort and reduced social participation. Over time, this could dampen their enthusiasm for social interactions.

Credit. Midjourney

As older men engage less in productive activities, they tend to focus more on other social affairs. In contrast, older women typically pay less attention to such matters. The ethnic minority female elders we contacted paid more attention to household chores and did not comment on PAR policies or livelihood issues related to poverty alleviation. Additionally, older men and women felt their leisure activities were inadequate, potentially undermining their motivation to engage socially in the new community.

Suggestions

Ethnic minority elders face challenges in social participation at the intersection of traditional values and modernity. However, certain measures can alleviate these pressures on the elderly and increase their opportunities and motivation for social participation. 

The traditional Chinese idea of “providing the elderly with a sense of belonging and security” is crucial. Therefore, post-relocation policies should prioritise enhancing healthcare services and addressing mental health issues among the elderly. Increasing employability, particularly among elderly men, and fostering robust social and cultural activities in relocated communities are vital to boosting their motivation and social participation.

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Journal reference

Zhang, Z., & Feng, L. (2024). Social participation and its gender differences among ethnic minority elders after poverty alleviation relocation (Linxia, China). Humanities and Social Sciences Communications11(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-024-03043-z

Ziyao Zhang, who was born in 1979, is an Associate Professor. She graduated from TianGong University in Tianjin, China, in July 2001 and received her master’s degree from Lanzhou University in July 2006, majoring in Regional Economics. She has been working at Gansu Agricultural University since 2001 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2011. She has been interested in development problems in underdeveloped areas for a long time, and her recent research focuses on labour economics and socio-economic development in western China.