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Understanding wellbeing among middle aged immigrant Malay women in Melbourne

posted on 22.02.2017, 02:27 by Ab Razak, Asrenee
Aging as an immigrant is not easy. While migration has been shown to pose a risk to mental health among recently arrived immigrants, the acculturation process that develops over time does not necessarily protect their psychological wellbeing in later life. This is a great concern for Australia as the majority of its population is immigrant, with an increasing number from cultural and linguistic backgrounds distinct from the historically dominant population. Malays constitute a small fraction of the Australian population, yet the size of this community is increasing and therefore there is a value to study their aging. This ethnographic research examines the interaction between cultural and social environments in midlife, among immigrant Malay women living in Melbourne. This research was undertaken using a social constructionist approach, and in the course of this study, I attempt to understand women’s midlife journey and how this shapes their everyday lives as immigrants, using Bourdieu’s theory of habitus (1990), and theories of social capital particularly as explained by Putnam (1995), Coleman (1990) and Bourdieu (1986). Ethnographic data were collected using multiple methods from July 2010 to December 2012 in Melbourne. Thirty three women were recruited through snowball sampling, with 18 women participating in in-depth interviews and 15 women participating in three focus group discussions. Five key informants were interviewed separately. The data were analyzed using thematic analysis. My findings suggested that the journey of midlife changes immigrant Malay women’s perceptions of their priorities in life, and this in turn influences ideas of how to life, their daily practices, and hence their psychological wellbeing. How they navigate their lives is reflected in their habitus and influenced by the availability and accessibility of social capital; this in turn influenced their psychological wellbeing. The concept of psychological wellbeing as understood by the women is grounded in religious doctrines that shaped their dispositions. Acculturation to Australian society and local norms, values and understandings of wellbeing, and women’s own responses to their aging and to bodily changes, further contributed to how they understood wellbeing. Women’s subjectivity was constituted by practices that are informed by and sustain religious norms. Changes in dress, and their involvement in a particular religious community, informed the embodied behaviours that transformed women’s identity and, as they explained, “shaped their inner souls,” therefore, also their wellbeing. Women’s innovative and creative acquisition of new dispositions defined who they were as Malay-Muslim immigrants in Australia.


Principal supervisor

Lenore Manderson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Psychological sciences

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences