Caring for Singaporean Malay older people in Perth: The cultural concept of filial piety and integrating with Australia’s norms and aged care system

Author Identifier

Mohd Ali, N.Y.

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Trudi Cooper

Second Supervisor

Hossein Adibi


This thesis analyses the role of the cultural concept of reverence or filial piety among Perth’s Singaporean Malay people in looking after parents at old age and end-of-life, following their migration to Australia. It synthesises two theoretical perspectives. A social ecological approach is used to examine this group’s shared traditional beliefs, values, ageing experiences and aged care practices, and particularly their subscription to the dynamic cultural concept of filial piety towards older people, and in looking after them. Acculturation theory is used to examine this population’s emigration to Australia, their integration within the predominantly white yet multicultural host society, and their adaptation to Australia’s norms and aged care system. This conceptual framework, using literature on filial piety in kin care and integration, is applied to an ethnographic study of aged care among Singaporean Malay people in Perth. This study involved observation and expansive interactions with 20 participants, including the community’s older people, carers and cultural gatekeepers. Findings were grouped into three broad categories: the community’s organisation; its integration within Australia and acculturation to the aged care system; and their maintenance of traditional aged care practices.

Familial aged care was a predominant concern among this community’s caregivers, as they viewed filial caregiving as a form of emotional and religious accomplishment. While families often needed supplementary practical support from formal aged care services, their premigration cultural care values, expectation and practices often conflicted with their postmigration encounters with the Australian aged care system. This study found a potential trend of departure from familial care approaches as a result of acculturation processes. While caregivers insisted on adherence to familial filial piety practices as an ideal, older people often expressed a preference for admission to residential aged care facilities. Findings elucidate how constraints such as lack of extended family and community support, and a dearth of culturally responsive aged care services, have led people to acculturate to Australia’s aged care norms. Through this process of acculturation, Perth’s Singaporean Malay people’s familial aged care practices, old-age living arrangements and end-of-life care preferences have been transformed, leading to a greater acceptance of residential aged care.

This study is theoretically significant because it develops understanding of the Singaporean Malay cultural concept of filial piety, and how it plays out in the context of caring for older persons in Perth. It is important because it investigates the changing cultural perspectives and practices of this emerging Australian-Singapore-Malay community. Finally, this study practically implicates Australia’s aged care policies and services to develop guidelines for aged care training institutions, which could be used to inform curriculum towards producing culturally competent aged care professionals. These guidelines could also be used by aged care service providers to proactively design resources that provide culturally responsive personcentred care programmes and services for their growing culturally and linguistically diverse minority community clients. This research paves the way to create more sustainable, longterm aged care where familial care practices may be synergised with the care strategies adopted in residential care, respite and home-support services, thus catering to the diverse care needs of migrants in Australia. This study also paves way to future research on the experiences of Singaporean Malay older people living in Australia’s non-ethno-specific aged care facilities, to inform how their care may be complicated by language, cultural and religious restrictions and sensitivities. Research to understand the cultural perspectives of dementia or any other mental health condition experienced by this population, and their impact on older people and their care, is also needed to enable better aged care planning among this and similar minority cultures in Australia.



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