“Left Like Stones in the Middle of the Road”: Narratives of Aging Alone and Coping Strategies in Rural Albania and Bulgaria

N. Conkova, J. Vullnetari, R. King, T. Fokkema

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We explore and compare older adults’ lived experiences and coping strategies in two postcommunist countries—Albania and Bulgaria. Wholesale youth outmigration and economic and institutional regional decline have led to decaying rural areas where older adults become “abandoned.” Aging alone, as couples or widowed, they are socially marginalized and in constant search for coping mechanisms which enable them to survive.
We adopt a social-psychology theoretical framework which distinguishes between problem-focused and emotion-focused coping. Data include 28 in-depth interviews with older residents and participant observation in selected rural areas of the two countries.
In both countries, rural social isolation is expressed as a lack of close family ties—mainly due to the removal through outmigration of children and grandchildren—and detachment from society at large. The most prevalent coping mechanism consists of practical and emotional support from non-kin ties, especially neighbors. Remittances help to resolve material needs, especially in Albania, where most rural young people migrate abroad. In both settings, a range of emotion-focused coping strategies were identified, including perceptions of decreased needs, lowered expectations about relationships, and satisfaction at the achievements of the younger generations.
Similarities between research findings in Albania and Bulgaria reflect their shared political and institutional history. Although few, differences relate to a combination of contrasting migration and cultural patterns. In both settings problem- and emotion-focused adaptive strategies are overlapping, and successful aging efforts seem to be of a communal rather than an individualistic nature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1492–1500
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology, Series B
Issue number8
Early online date20 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • in-depth interviews
  • loneliness
  • migration
  • rural aging
  • social support


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