Depressive Symptoms among Rural “Left-Behind” Older Adults: A Test of the High Outmigration Penalty Hypothesis

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2021 Mar 8:gbab040. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbab040. Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVES: We investigated whether there was a “high outmigration penalty” for psychological health among older adults in rural China by assessing two potential community stressors associated with major sociodemographic changes in the community – increased outmigration and older adult density. We also investigated whether disparities in community economic conditions moderated the association between community stressors and depressive symptoms.

METHODS: We employed three waves of data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (2011-2015), using multilevel negative binomial models to address our research questions.

RESULTS: Our results supported the “high outmigration penalty” hypothesis. Older adults living in low-income rural communities may experience an aggravated mental health penalty compared to those living in high-income rural communities. Higher older adult density was also associated with more depressive symptoms but only in less wealthy communities. Community differences in economic conditions were key factors buffering the high outmigration disadvantage associated with the psychological health of older Chinese adults.

DISCUSSION: Rural outmigration may have deepened existing inter-community health disparities among older adults. Policies should be developed to address community-level factors negatively associated with the well-being of older Chinese adults living in high outmigration and less wealthy rural communities.

PMID:33693645 | DOI:10.1093/geronb/gbab040