Elderly people leave rural areas for cities

By Phan Duong   May 9, 2023 | 01:42 am PT
Many were surprised when Luong and his wife sold their properties in the countryside and bought an apartment in Hanoi at age 72, just to be closer to their children.

Luong's son relocated from Thanh Hoa to Hanoi after getting married. In 2018, after their grandchild was born, Luong’s wife came to the city to assist their daughter-in-law in taking care of the kid.

During this time, Luong once fell and cut his head in the bathroom. He passed out bleeding for 30 minutes. When his son found out, he felt so guilty he sent his kid to kindergarten immediately so that his mother could come back to Thanh Hoa and take care of his father.

"But my wife sighed a lot after coming back, saying how she missed our children and grandchildren," Luong recalled.

Their wish to stay with their children and grandchildren, combined with their worry for their children’s difficulties buying a house on only their civil servants' incomes, made them come to a decision.

They decided they had no choice other than to sell the house they’d from their parents.

Luong then kept 100 sq.m of the house and sold the rest for over VND6 billion (around $256,000). He gave his three younger sisters VND1 billion each. The remaining amount was spent buying a three-bedroom apartment in Hanoi and on a savings account for emergencies.

Since then, they bought an apartment in Nam Tu Liem District, where he, his wife, his son, his daughter-in-law, and his grandchild all live together.

Many young people in Hanoi suburban areas are taking their parents to the city. They often buy an apartment in the same complex as yours for their parents. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

Many young people in Hanoi suburban areas are taking their parents to the city. They often buy an apartment in the same complex as theirs for their parents. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

Social science researchers have found despite the fact that Vietnam has been observing a shift from traditional families to nuclear families, the majority of elderly people still expect to be able to rely on their children in their old age.

Results from research on population and family planning in Vietnam in 2021 showed that most of the country’s elderly were living with their children. Most specifically, 87% of those aged over 80, 76% of those aged between 70 and 79, and 68% of those aged between 60 and 69 fell into this category. A Ministry of Health survey on population and health insurance showed a similar phenomenon.

Truong Xuan Cu, Vice President of Vietnam Association of the Elderly, said "These figures show that to the elderly in Vietnam, living with their children is an important thing."

In a survey by VnExpress with around 400 respondents, 14% said they would choose to "take our parents to urban areas so that they could live with us or nearby" if they could.

Long, a resident of Nam Tu Liem District, Hanoi, and his family are also considering this option.

Long's mother, Nguyen Thi Oanh, 61, is living in Lai Chau. She has not seen her children and grandchildren in a long time. "My daughter is living in Phu Tho, while my son is living in Hanoi. Traveling from and to those places takes us between eight and 10 hours. It’s difficult for us to visit each other," Oanh said.

Living apart from their children and grandchildren also makes the elderly couple more concerned about their health. Oanh's husband has high blood pressure and a tendency to forget things. "Recently I often think about when our health gets even worse. What if one day we are too sick to even wake up and buy food for ourselves?" Oanh said.

When Oanh and her husband told their children about their plans to move to the city for better healthcare and nearness to their children’s families, they were supported. "My son was happy because if I moved to the city, he would not have to worry about us from a distance anymore," she explained.

Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s highest rate of urbanization. The 2021 population survey shows that migration from rural areas to urban areas makes up for 25% of domestic relocations in Vietnam.

"The more the youth migrates to the city to pursue their careers, the higher number of lonely elderly are left behind," said Dr. Nguyen Van Dinh, Vice President of Vietnam National Real Estate Association.

A similar problem has been observed in other countries as well. For example, in 2021, the Chinese government issued a policy encouraging children to live closer to their parents in order to relieve the burden that the aging population is putting on their social welfare system. Cu praised this idea as a good solution.

In fact, as Dinh observed, children buying accommodations close to their residences for their parents is an increasingly popular trend in Vietnam, especially after Covid. Dinh predicts that this phenomenon will continue to grow in popularity during the next few years.

Not every elderly person fits this mold, however. People who are likely to move to metropolitan areas generally share a few common characteristics. They often live in towns or municipalities, are retired civil servants or business owners. The majority of them have achieved financial stability, or their children have become successful. Their ages are not too high. "These people find it easier to adapt to lifestyles in urban areas," Dinh explained.

Sometimes there are people engaged in agricultural activities who sell their rural houses before moving to the cities as well. However, Dinh said these cases are rare. These types of people often value accommodations inherited from their predecessors and are familiar with lifestyles in rural areas. These values can easily create conflicts while living with their children in the cities.

"The possibility of not being able to adapt to lifestyles in urban areas and getting into conflicts with children are things that elderly people who are considering relocating to cities should keep in mind. Many have encountered unsolvable conflicts with their children after selling properties in rural areas and moving to cities, only to realize that they have no other place to go," Cu advised.

To tackle this, he suggests that the elderly prepare for their old age, and create total control over their financial resources and their lives. "They should prepare for everything till the end of their lives," he noted.

On a larger scale, the government should promote gratitude towards the elderly. Communities should develop spaces for the elderly to meet, talk, and to participate in events that are in their interests. Cu said people in this age group have a strong desire to communicate with others.

Having retired and maintained a healthy lifestyle while frequently attending community activities for five years, Oanh believes it would not be difficult for her to adapt to a new lifestyle. She believes that she and her husband would be fine in Hanoi with a total pension worth of VND 10 million (around $426). She is not worried about the generation gap between her and her children either, as she has clearly stated to her children that they would live nearby, not under the same roof.

"But we have to sell our house before reuniting with my children and grandchildren," she said.

Oanh put her house on the market last year, asking for VND 2.8 billion (around $120,000), which she plans to use to buy a home close to her son's place.

Luong and his wife experienced some difficulties during their first months in Hanoi. They frequently returned to their hometown, as they missed the town, the neighbors, and the food.

But over time, their daughter-in-law bought pots and tools so that Luong's wife could plant vegetables, and their son took up the habit of playing chess with Luong every evening. So they slowly felt better. They gradually established good relationships with their new neighbors as well. "It took us around half a year to adapt to our new life," Luong said.

Things got even better when a couple of years later, two brothers and a former neighbor of Luong's moved to Hanoi. Since then, their families have frequently gathered and gone on trips together on weekends. "There were days when my family hosted 30 people, of which all were my relatives," recalled Luong.

Luong and his wife have now spent five years living in the capital so far. Their health has gotten better. Earlier this year they welcomed another grandchild, and that has helped them feel happier and busier than ever.

"We have an only son, so we really adore our children and grandchildren," said Luong.

"I don't know about others, but to me and my wife, selling our house and relocating to the city was the right decision."

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