Journal Article

The impact of past conflicts and social disruption on the elderly in Cambodia

Cambodia experienced violence during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Many who died were the children or spouses of today’s elderly. This may have resulted in an erosion of family support in a country where formal channels of assistance are virtually absent. This article examines the extent to which current Cambodian elderly experienced deaths of children or spouses, forced migration, and separation from family during the Khmer Rouge period and the extent to which these experiences are associated with adverse welfare conditions of older adults. Data come from a 2004 representative survey of persons aged 60 years and older. More than one in four report that a child died from violent causes during the Khmer Rouge period. More than one in five report death of multiple children. A striking, and on the surface counterintuitive, conclusion is that the impact of deaths on welfare is modest. The reasons, elucidated in the article, include close family integration, high fertility among the current generation of older adults, the probability that losses depended on family size, and the pervasiveness of poverty.