Ageing and Society


Care dependence in old age: preferences, practices and implications in two Indonesian communities


a1 Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton, UK.

a2 Formerly Department of Anthropology, Universitas Andalas, Padang, Indonesia.


The provision of physical care is a sensitive matter in all cultures and is circumscribed by moral injunctions and personal preferences. Research on Western cultures has shown care networks to be narrow subsets of people's wider networks and revealed dependence to be deeply undermining of full personhood. In non-Western societies these issues have received little attention, although it is sometimes assumed that care provision and dependence are much less problematic. This paper uses longitudinal ethnographic data from two ethnic groups in rural Indonesia to compare care preferences and practices in old age and to examine the implications of care dependence. The groups manifest varying degrees of daughter preference in care and differ in the extent to which notions of shame and avoidance prohibit cross-gender intimate care and care by ‘non-blood’ relatives. Demographic and social constraints often necessitate compromises in actual care arrangements (e.g. dependence on in-laws, neighbours or paid carers), not all of which are compatible with quality care and a valued identity. We argue that by probing the norms and practices surrounding care provision in different socio-cultural settings, it becomes possible to arrive at a deeper understanding of kinship, personhood and sociality. These insights are not only of sociological interest but have implications for people's vulnerability to poor quality care in old age.

(Accepted August 21 2012)

(Online publication October 19 2012)


  • care;
  • dependence;
  • networks;
  • personhood;
  • vulnerability;
  • gender;
  • ethnography;
  • Indonesia


c1 Address for correspondence: Elisabeth Schröder-Butterfill, Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton, Murray Building (58/4079), Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK. E-mail: