• living arrangements;
  • support networks;
  • population ageing;
  • changing household structures;
  • Indonesia


Throughout Asia the proportions of national populations aged 65 years and above are predicted to grow rapidly over the next 50 years. While this process of ageing is already well underway in the more economically developed countries in East Asia, it is just beginning to accelerate in Southeast Asia. This increase in the proportion of the elderly population creates new demands for social and economic support, and simultaneously brings to the forefront the concern that changing household structures will translate into a decline in support for the elderly. Presently, in Indonesia most elderly parents co-reside with their adult children. However, preliminary studies provide some evidence that casts doubt on the presumed relationship between co-residence and receipt of support. This paper uses qualitative case studies of elderly parents and their adult children to examine the connection between living arrangements and support relationships. We collected data for the case studies through the use of in-depth interviews, direct observation, and a structured household questionnaire. We conducted the case studies in urban and rural areas on Java and Sumatra, respectively, and we focused upon two distinct sociocultural groups: the Javanese and the Batak Karo. The use of different geographical locations allowed us to evaluate how the urban and rural environment, as well as traditional sociocultural norms, shaped the preferences and behaviours of elderly parents and their adult children. This paper argues for the conceptual separation of living arrangements and support relationships, and it suggests the existence of a support continuum that has six distinct levels, ranging from level 1 (elderly parents completely supporting adult child) to level 5 (adult child completely supporting elderly parents), with level 6 indicating no exchange of support whatsoever. Primarily, ‘support’ refers to transfers of time and money; however, the case-study approach facilitates the evaluation of less quantifiable aspects of support, including companionship, knowledge and experience. Based on evidence from the case studies, it appears that some elderly parents completely support their adult children; however, in most cases the relationship between parent and child is reciprocal. Because these relationships are often subtle, they are easily missed when researchers rely on highly structured methods of data collection. This study of the support continuum in Indonesia will be of use to anyone seeking to understand the complex and nuanced relationships that exist between the elderly and their children. The case studies, besides providing a window through which to observe the Indonesian household, also provide insights that will be useful to those who wish to design structured survey instruments. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.