International migration, brought on by globalisation, has been portrayed as a threat to Nordic welfare regimes. With ageing populations already undermining sustainability, the apparent growth in number of elderly immigrants has led to the discursive construction of this category as a social problem. How are ethnicity and ‘elderly immigrants’ thus portrayed in social policy for older people?
Using a social constructionist perspective, a Swedish social policy document – SENIOR 2005 – has been analysed so as to examine the use of ethnicity and the depiction of ‘elderly immigrants’. SENIOR 2005 is the final product of a parliamentary investigation of the ways in which future social policy can be developed to be sustainable in the long term; it can thus be regarded as one of the bases upon which policy is formed.
The analysis has brought to light two contrasting ways in which ‘elderly immigrants’ are conceptualised. On the one hand, explicit discussions of ethnicity and ‘elderly immigrants’ focus on flux, diversity and heterogeneity – opposing the picture of a problematic, homogeneous group. On the other hand, ethnicity and ‘elderly immigrants’ are frequently mentioned in connection with a range of problems: poor health, psychological problems, lack of involvement in society, are just some of the qualities ascribed to ‘elderly immigrants’, which ultimately portrays them as a homogeneous group and social problem. In addition, the absence of questions of ethnicity in large parts of the text point to a frame of reference where Swedishness is the norm. Ultimately, ‘elderly immigrants’ are portrayed as a homogenous, marginalised, problematic group that is excluded from the national community of older people.
19th IAGG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 5-9 July 2009 in Paris, France