Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Ageing as an Immigrant in New Zealand: Agency Within the Life Course of Ethnic Chinese Migrants

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posted on 2023-03-21, 02:21 authored by Tan, Sock Hwee

Migration is a stressful life event that can have enduring implications in a person’s life. As migrants grow old in their host countries, understanding their experience of ageing is important given the growing foreign-born ageing population in Aotearoa New Zealand. Research on ageing and migration in New Zealand has focused on migrants who immigrated in later life and on migrants’ experiences at specific points in time. Less is known about the life course trajectories of immigrants who have lived much of their adult life in New Zealand and how their past experiences influence their capacity to age according to their values. Using a life course approach, this project examines how ethnic Chinese migrants who made New Zealand home in early to mid-life stage account for successes and hardships as they narrate their life histories. Unstructured interviews were conducted with nine older adults aged between 64 and 73 years old from Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong/China, who arrived in New Zealand between the ages of 19 and 41 and identified as ethnic Chinese, about their life course history and analysed using narrative analysis. Results indicated that immigration in early life and participation in institutional structures set the path for accumulation of advantages that carried into later life, but such advantages were absent for early life working class immigrants with lower educational attainments. Despite the constraints of their social world, migrants enacted individual agency to shift race identity in the face of racial discrimination to overcome life’s challenges. Experiences of racism notwithstanding, older adult migrants storied migration as an avenue to be relieved of cultural expectations and unequal access to opportunities in their countries of origin, to reinterpret cultural obligations in order to claim autonomy and independence for themselves as they reflected on their own needs growing old. Insights from this study offer implications for how policies that impact early to mid-adult life migrants have consequences that can produce differing outcomes for when they arrive at old age.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Psychology; Health

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Health

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

200407 Health status (incl. wellbeing)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Health


Szabo, Agnes