Social Contexts of Education and Learning in Retirement Migration March 2012 – October 2013


This project aimed to explore the role of educational activities in International Retirement Migration. The current global cohort of older people is the most highly formally educated in human history. Education has been demonstrated as playing an important role in supporting ‘active ageing’ and reducing older people’s social isolation. The research explored learning beyond the classroom in the lives of later-life, mainly British migrants who had moved to the south of Spain. It documented migrants’ experiences in numerous clubs and associations, assessing the importance of self-directed and group learning through qualitative ethnographic research. The findings demonstrate the important consequences of these groups in developing social capital and developing innovative new strategies for social care in the absence of welfare state mechanisms among older peers. It also considered the ways in which migration itself opened up new possibilities for learning, such as language learning.

Principal Investigator

Caroline Oliver


The British Academy


Spain, UK


CareDiasporaEducationGeneration and Life courseNetworks




The work draws on theories of social capital and networks (Putnam, Bourdieu and Coleman) and sociological theorising around the fluidity of the life course in the contexts of an ageing society.


Two field trips were completed in October 2012 and May 2013, in which the range of educational groups and their composition were documented and interviews were conducted with group organisers and participants. During both visits, extensive ethnographic field notes were taken. Over the summer of 2013, interviews were transcribed; analysis and interpretation was completed during 2014; writing up is ongoing.


Indicative findings confirmed that educational activities were indeed integral to the community, generating social capital. They were considered a socially legitimate use of time, important to engage in for continued health and wellbeing, and a point of reference for maintaining social contacts. However, data revealed that their function was limited in terms of educational benefits themselves: active learning was secondary to passive learning, and the social benefits of educational gatherings were of more interest to participants than instrumental learning. However, the research revealed that this social function was fundamental in providing informal opportunities for people to assess and contribute to each other’s wellbeing and offering regular and routinized opportunities to check on ageing peers.

The project, allowing renewed contact with informants some 15 years after initial research began, generated important broader insights. These include considerations of the management of social care in the absence of well-developed welfare and social care provision, the changing contexts of retirement migration in the time of economic crisis in Spain and broader methodological insights around ethnographic reflexivity, trust and status.


Oliver, C. (forthcoming, 2016) ‘Ageing, Embodiment and Emotions in Orientations to Home: British Retirement Migration in Spain,’ in Nare, L. and Walsh, K. (eds.) Home and Transnationalism in Older Age, London: Routledge