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06 Jun 2024

Belonging as an ageing Asian, new research by Emeritus Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio ONZM.

Executive summary

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, migration and ageing are omnipresent phenomena. Population ageing is one of the most significant transformations of the 21st century, with the number of those over 65 years of age growing faster than all other age groups. In Auckland, where there are people from more than a hundred countries, there are 31,353 Asians aged 65+. This is according to the census definitions of Asians, a heterogeneous group which includes peoples from Southeast Asia, Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, Japanese, Korean, Afghani, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, and Eurasian peoples, Bhutan, Maldives and Mongolia.

Ageing Asian migrants face the accumulation of stigma, hardships, inequality, marginal positions, and the stress of doing work that is generally dirty, dangerous and difficult. As in many areas of life for ethnic minority migrants, ethnic disparities exist, as the benefits of longevity may not be evenly distributed. Feigning ignorance of their numbers and the challenges they face will not do, as data and trends from the New Zealand census over the past many years have clearly indicated the changing demography of Aotearoa and Auckland.

With the support of The Selwyn Foundation, Emeritus Professor Edwina Pio ONZM embarked on research to explore the experiences of ageing Asians in Auckland. (Professor Pio received an ONZM in the 2023 New Year Honours for her service to ethnic communities.) This research has been conducted prior to her forthcoming residency as visiting academic at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, Oxford, UK.

Through a lens that investigates the intersections of age, gender, language, ethnicity, work, culture and religion/faith/spirituality and social structures, her overarching research question was:

‘What are the experiences of ageing Asians in Auckland and how do they stay connected, active and engaged?’

The impetus for Professor Pio’s research was the dearth of available information on ageing Asians in Auckland, despite their exponentially growing numbers.  Census records indicate that, in 2006, they numbered 21,354, in 2013 they numbered 47,1708, and in 2018 they are 70,7598 or 7.08% of the population.

Yet ageing Asians seem to be victims of the equations which create policies of inclusion for the majority and various forms of exclusion for the minority. Undoubtedly this is a delicate and difficult balance, but there seems to be a tectonic slowness in responding to this rapidly changing demographic. This evidence-based research at a strategic and tactical level therefore seeks to inform both central and local government policy and practice. At its heart, it seeks to support the decision-making of policymakers and those working in the aged care sector, so that they have the pulse of this group of 65+ year olds and are focussed on their voices and meaningful engagement, while fostering their abilities by being responsive and facilitating appropriate access to care.

The three largest groups of Asians aged 65+ in Auckland are Chinese (16,836), Indians (9,345) and Koreans (1,434). In this research, the views of four focus groups consisting of a total of 38 participants (14 men and 24 women) from the Chinese, Indian and Korean communities who were born overseas were explored, along with those of 18 high-level managers working in the older person’s sector or interacting with ageing individuals in Auckland.

Five key themes emerged from the focus groups:

  • a love of Auckland
  • the importance of being active and engaged
  • concern about elder abuse
  • the importance of enhanced linguistic and cultural sensitivity and mindfulness (by service providers)
  • what their future holds.

The practitioners emphasised five key themes:

  • the need for an ethnic strategy for this cohort of older people
  • an issue with fragmented funding across services
  • the potential for elder abuse
  • the importance of having connectors to help older migrants navigate services
  • facilitating healthcare that is responsive to the various ethnicities’ needs and practices.

Six multi-faceted recommendations can be garnered from this research which would deliver services/policies that would enhance wellbeing and quality of life across many domains:

  • Crafting an ethnic strategy for ageing Asians, which is adequately and sustainably resourced;
  • Having enhanced healthcare including linguistically and culturally mindful mental health personnel/interpreters;
  • Facilitating ageing in place, with independent living that provides enhanced cultural and linguistic sensitivity;
  • Creating connectors, with a one stop window/booklet with information on health, law, human rights, community activities;
  • Reducing fragmented funding, with focus on monitoring and oversight of programmes and outputs, especially for elder abuse;
  • Incentivising organisations who employ seniors.

Unfortunately, the trope that has gained currency is that ageing Asians are a drain on society, and this framing of the narrative has been deeply damaging. Yet it is conceivable that older Asian ethnic minority migrants may be valuable contributors as economic enablers and worthwhile resources at work and within the aged care sector. In fact, their wisdom can impact learnings in organisations and communities, despite the fact that many are undervalued.

Professor Pio asks how can we make ageing Asians’ days be filled with a symphony of joy, safe spaces, engagement and tranquillity, so that their light is not diminished or deliberately snuffed out. The answer is having innovative policymakers who can think four dimensionally – who can focus on the specific domain (ageing), are interdisciplinary, who think vertically and also have a far time horizon of the past and future. This 4D thinking can re-set the narrative and navigate (un)chartered waters to reinterpret strategies and policies which can respond to the granulated, textured patterns of the lives of heterogeneous ageing.

This research aims to tease out the nuanced realities of ageing Asian migrants, to ease their perceived burden of ageing and to inform towns and cities of age-friendly pathways. For Aotearoa New Zealand can be a place where all peoples who live here feel respected, can live their lives with dignity and be economic enablers with their contributions acknowledged and celebrated.

E waka eka noa – we are all in this together.


Age Concern Auckland’s Asian Service is dedicated to providing Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Japanese-speaking communities in Auckland with culturally and linguistically appropriate support.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or neglect, Age Concern can help – they have Elder Abuse Services across the country and contacts offering local support. Visit:

The Office for Seniors also has a free, confidential 24 hour Elder Abuse Response Service helpline:

Freephone: 0800 32 668 65
Text: 5032