“The Lost Years:” Georgian migrant mothers sacrificing many years of their lives in order to support their adult children

Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Female labor migrants from Georgia are often locked into perpetual migration and are continuously deferring retirement because their adult children in Georgia cannot secure an adequate livelihood without their remittances, new research suggests.

Currency exchange kiosk; Kavsadze Street Tbilisi, Georgia; Photo: Christina Lomidze
Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, more and more Georgian women are choosing labor migration as a strategy to escape poverty. Once the women arrive in their destination countries and take up work, however, they often lack a plan for their return to their home country and retirement since many of them need to keep supporting their adult children or other family members through remittances.
Recent research performed on the topic of migration and gender (“‘Our Lost Years:’ Female migrants from Georgia and the dependency of their adult children on remittances.” Completed in May of 2016 by Christina Lomidze, for her Master’s thesis at New York University. Thesis supervisor: Anne Marie Goetz) discusses the circumstances surrounding

the migration of Georgian mothers. The study was performed through 20 in-depth interviews with 10 Georgian female migrants in New York and 10 of their adult dependent children in Georgia, as well as a survey with 70 Georgian female migrants in New York who support adult children back home. The results of the research suggest that the respondents are not choosing migration for their own personal economic empowerment. Instead, they are sacrificing many years of their lives for the financial wellbeing of their adult children.

According to the study, 89% of the migrants, regardless of whether their adult children are fully or partially dependent on remittances, indicated that the financial situation of their adult children will change for the worse if they end their migration and return home. One migrant who fully supports her unemployed adult children in Georgia explains: “My children are 100 percent dependent on me financially, that is why I cannot go back. Neither of them work; they are unable to find employment.”

The majority of the dependent adult children further explain that even though many are highly educated and hold prestigious positions, their salaries are not enough to support their families. One such respondent, a father of three who works as mid-level public sector employee and whose wife is a doctor made the following comment: “Our combined salaries are not enough to live comfortably. Our salaries are enough for bills; it is not enough for food.”

Among the majority of the respondents, remittances are spent on consumption rather than investment. Thus, the migration of mothers in many instances has only offered their adult children with a temporary relief from poverty which will end as soon the migrants return home. In addition, most of the adult dependent children have not had a conversation with their mothers regarding retirement (even though most of the migrants are between the ages of 55-70) and many have not thought about how they will support themselves once the remittances stop.

The migrant mothers feel a strong sense of responsibility to support their adult children. Therefore, the inability of their adult children to secure their own livelihoods, hinders many migrants from retiring. One migrant explains the following: “The mentality among Georgian women is such that they feel morally obligated to provide for their children regardless of the age of the children. They will continue to support them both financially and physically as long as they are able to.”

In addition, 93% of the surveyed women indicated that they feel they must stay in migration in order to keep up with the material needs of their adult children.

The constant drain of sending remittances, however, has prevented the majority of the migrants from acquiring personal savings. Most of the qualitative interviewees have not been able to put away money for their retirement and 86% of women surveyed indicated that they have not been able to save for their retirement as well.

In addition, the female migrants from among the interviewees also explained that they have suffered emotionally and psychologically as a result of their labor migration. One migrant explains the following: Migration has affected us (migrants) psychologically. I personally have suffered from depression. My doctor diagnosed me with depression a while ago and I was taking anti-depressants. It was only after I began taking the medication that I sang for the first time since I have been in this country.

In sum, the results of this research suggest that the migration of Georgian mothers which at first might seem to be financially empowering for the migrants, might actually not contribute to their financial empowerment at all; the respondents from among this sample are not able to acquire personal savings or freely choose when to retire. Instead, many migrant mothers stay in labor migration with the idea in mind that these are their “lost years.” As one migrant explains: “I am satisfied with migration because I was able to provide for my children, but I have put myself aside during these years and these years are lost for me.”

“Our Lost Years”: Female migrants from Georgia and the dependency of their adult children on remittances.” Completed in May of 2016 by Christina Lomidze, UN Women intern in Georgia.