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Giving Remote Help: Reconciling Distance and Filial Duty to an Elderly Parent in Martinique

Myrtille Ferné

Research framework: This study addresses the issues faced by relatives living far from Martinique when their elderly parents become dependent, in a context where social and moral norms continue to make them the main actors of the elderly care.

Objectives: The theory of declining intergenerational solidarity should be qualified by focusing instead on the structural vulnerability issues faced by remote families in Martinique.

Methodology: Semi-directive interviews were conducted with three family caregivers living outside of Martinique. The analysis looks at the evolution of personal trade-offs and the types of resources mobilized to try to reconcile the duty of solidarity and autonomy with distance.

Results: The fragile balance that makes it possible to provide for the needs of an elderly parent at a distance is certainly due to the moral arbitration of relatives, but also to their ability to visit the place often, to find relays and to adapt to the ever-evolving situation. Due to the inadequacy of the public aid system, relatives have been forced to resort to free and/or undeclared help from women, reproducing a “chain of care” based on socio-economic and gender inequalities, or even to relocate to the detriment of their personal autonomy.

Conclusion: The migratory and demographic situation in Martinique is rooted in the asymmetrical (post-)colonial relations between France and its overseas territories. The resulting weakening of intergenerational relations of mutual aid poses a challenge to the precariousness of the living conditions of Martinique’s elderly.

Contribution: This work highlights the issues of the “family at a distance” in terms of assistance to the elderly and enriches the literature on “left-behind elderly” in the little-explored context of ageing Martinique.