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Nicholas Glytsos

“Intergenerational Costs and Benefits of Kytherian Migration in Australia”

Nicholas P. Glytsos, Ph.D

Emeritus Researcher of Economics
Centre of Planning and Economic Research
Athens, Greece

Paper Presented in the 6th International Symposium of Kytheraismos:
The Kytherians of the World, the World of the Kytherians
6-9 November, Sydney, Australia


The objective of this paper is to take stock of the overall costs and benefits of a century-long Kytherian migration to Australia, cutting across all generations of Kytherian ancestry. The cost that financed the departure of relatives, as well as the cost to the Kytherian community has been redeemed by the long sending remittances of first generation, so that the cost-benefit account for the subsequent generations has only benefits for the individuals, the families and the island community. Thence, second and third generations have no explicit or implicit financial obligation to tie them to Kythera, therefore, anything they do for relatives and the island, in the form of either monetary or intangible benefits, is motivated by genuine altruism and patriotism, as well as the love and nostalgia for the land of their ancestors, and the question is what can be done to enhance it?

• Introduction
• Meaning and Significance of Costs and Benefits
• The cost-free new generations and the retention of their national identity
• Modernizing Benefits to the Island
• Balancing Costs and Benefits at the end of the Century Long Migration Cycle
• Conclusion and a way to move forward


Greek migration and, by implication Kytherian constituting historically a considerable proportion of it, has completed roughly a century long cycle (1900-2000) of go and come (Glytsos, 1997a) and the Australian Greeks and Kytherians are now consisting of four generations. The recent (2011) Australian population census gives 378,270 population of Greek origin, of which 116,885 (30.9 per cent) are Greece-born, 169,465 (44.8 per cent) second generation, and 91,920 (24.3 per cent) third-plus generation (ABS, 2011). If the estimated figure of 80,000 (Marsellos, 1998) for Kytherians is accepted as valid, then by analogy, the first generation Kytherians are roughly 25,000, the second generation are 36,000 and the third-plus generation 19,000 .

These figures are mostly the ultimate outcome of the mass departure of migrants during the 1950s and 1960s that deserted the island, resulting over the subsequent years in decayed and ruined houses all around, transforming many places into “ghost villages”, of which several still exist. This loss of population, despite the tremendous development of the island in later years, has never been recovered. In fact, the Kythera population has declined from 8,178 persons in 1940, before the mass emigration of the 1950’ and 1960’ to 4,030 permanent residents, including a substantial proportion of foreign population that lives and works on the island, in 2011 (ELSTAT, 2011).

Very often there is the notion that had all the young people not rushed to Australia, Kythera would have been different, because this workforce would produce on the island. I think that this view ignores the fact that workers alone without natural resources and capital cannot do much. Natural resources were lacking; agricultural land that was the main productive sector was rocky and infertile, finance was not practically available for buying the necessary equipment and developing an entrepreneurial spirit. As a result, any cultivation of the land done virtually by hand, or any other kind of non-agricultural production as hard as it was could provide very little, barely enough to sustain a minimum standard of living, especially for the extended families at the time, no matter how hard one scratched for surviving. Thence, Kythera pushed out starving and barefooted youth, but also adults, foreseen no hope that things would improve in the near future, if ever, while Australia was an attractive and convenient destination in those years; consequently emigration was a sensible thing to do, and this is why it was so extensive (Glytsos, 2004).

The objective of this paper is to take stock of the overall costs and benefits, in a broad sense, of this century-long Kytherian migration to Australia, cutting across all generations of Kytherian ancestry.

Meaning and Significance of Costs and Benefits

Moving from Kythera to Australia, or anywhere for that matter, entails financial costs and the emergence of all sorts of difficult situations and problems for both the migrant and the family back home that must be solved to overcome the painful transitional period and come to a new split family balance (Glytsos, 2008). On the departure of the migrant, the remaining family at home, bears the cost of migration, either this is in the form of money, i.e. cost of travel, etc or mainly in the form of lost family labour, having as a consequence the drop of household production, and the intensification of work by the remaining members of the family for their survival. Naturally, this decreases production on the island and affects more generally the economy and the social structure of the population.

But apart from the monetary costs and the financial suffering incurred locally by individuals or the Kytherian community, there is also involved the psychological cost of family separation that is allocated in the place of origin and the place of destination, to those who left and to those who stayed behind. The literature shows an age related association of such costs. Young people are found to have the lowest monetary and psychological cost of migration, because they are eager to move; as it is put, “age is negatively and strongly associated with the inclination to migrate” Burda (1993).

Among those staying behind, a particularly sensitive group is the children whose psychological state changes through the different phases of migration and over their age. As is empirically indicated, in some countries, this emotional stress is graver if the separation is from the mother rather than from the father and in others is the opposite, i.e. the children are more stressed when they are separated from their fathers (Graham and Jordan, 2011).

Experience shows that a very important factor, which alleviates both the financial and the psychological cost of migration, mainly at the arrival of the migrant in the place of destination, is the presence of networks of countrymen or the friends and relatives of the migrant (i.e. “the social networks”) that with their welcoming and help (provision of housing, jobs and psychological support) lighten both kinds of costs for the new comers (Sprenger, 2013:6). In particular for the Kytherian immigrants, it is found that the Kytherian community in Australia “functioned on a familial basis” (Costadopoulos-Hill, 1979). Further down the way, some intangible elements related to pleasant events, such as marriages, children, and friends in combination with income -which is important at the beginning and until it reaches a certain threshold value- complement the wellbeing of the migrant and create more happiness (Collier, 2013).

Turning to benefits for the islanders, customarily, the family at home expected some kind of “compensation” for the cost and the deprivations incurred because of the departure of their loved ones who, after their settlement in Australia, responded usually promptly as if to honor a tacit agreement between the two parts of the family. Remittances would ensure the survival of the family, and consequently alleviate the poverty of the Kytherian population, and also take care of the dowry of single daughters, at least in the early years of migration, when the dowry was still a prerequisite, in order for the young girls to avoid taking the bride ship to Australia.

Accounting for the long period of remittance sending, it is fair to assume that the initial and perhaps subsequent cost that financed the departure of relatives, as well as the cost to the Kytherian community in the form of lost workforce with all its consequences, has been redeemed over time by those who created it, i.e. the first generation of Kytherian migrants. As I have shown elsewhere, according to my own calculations (based on Glytsos, 1997, 2003), the remittances sent by the Kytherians of Australia, amounted, in the first half of the 1960’s - that was a mid period of the mass migration flows to Australia - to 500,000-600,000 US dollars annually, corresponding to 120-140 US dollars per inhabitant in Kythera; not an insignificant amount at the time. This continuous flow of incomes had a multiplier contribution in the economy of the island (Glytsos, 2008a).

In addition to these individual transfers, various generous donations in the past, by mostly the first generation of the Kytherian diaspora, helped building the Kythera social infrastructure, such as the high school, the hospital, the old people’s nursing home, refurbishing churches, etc., Such donations, although subsided nowadays, they have never been stopped. A very recent example is the last year 18,000 dollars donation gathered by the Kytherian Association of Australia for the Nursing Home for the aging in Kythera.

The cost-free new generations and the retention of their national identity

Having the first generation paid its own debt to the island, subsequent generations are cost-free as regards their ancestors in Kythera. They don’t have any explicit or tacit financial responsibility to tie them to the island, except perhaps a moral obligation and a gratitude to their forefathers for having given them the pride of their Kytherian inheritance. Therefore, anything they do for Kythera is entirely out of genuine altruism for relatives, as well as patriotism and the love and nostalgia for the land of their ancestors, feelings inspired by their parents, and also through the knowledge of and the familiarity with the rich mythology, history and civilization of the island.

The new generations of Australian Kytherians have developed some emotional attachments and admiration for the island, either because they learned about it from their fathers or grand fathers who immigrated to Australia, or even better, because they themselves have visited the island and formed their own opinion. Thus, in their turn, they raise their children, as much as it is feasible, with an eye to the values, the history and the traditions of the island, against the ways and modes of a modern society, as the Australian society is, so that they can sustain their national identity (Glytsos, 2008). It is though found that this is achieved not so much by the first generation pressing their children to “maintain contact within a totally Greek circle of friends, but they did encourage them to join the Greek Australian organizations” for not losing the touch with the Greek community (Costadopoulos-Hill, 1979).

Some indication for the successful outcome of this intergenerational process is the evidence that in every 100 first generation Greek immigrants in Australia, 226 descendants speak Greek-68 per cent of second generation speak Greek at home -whereas in every 100 first generation Italian immigrants, far less, namely, l62 speak Italian (Glytsos, 2004). And this happens, in addition to efforts of the family, as suggested above, thanks to the organized Greek community-and the Kytherian community for that matter- and the church that with their joint effort make this possible, despite the expected centrifugal forces that the second and third generations are exposed to in the Australia society and education, unintentionally tending to alienate them from their Kytherian roots.

Further to retaining their national identity, the education, the professions, the economic situation and the social status of Australian Greeks- and the Kytherians among them- advance towards higher and more esteemed achievements (2004a). Evidence shows that the educational level of second and third generation Greek- Australians, especially women, and Kytherians for that matter, is superior to the general level of the Australian population. Thus, 23 per cent (26 per cent for girls and 21 per cent of boys) of second generation Greeks have higher education, contrasted with 17 per cent of total Australian population. In addition, the inclination of high school kids to attend third level education is higher compared with any other nationality in Australia (Tamis and Gavaki, 2002).

Modernizing Benefits to the Island

These sweeping transformations in the Australian-Kytherian population of second and third generations brought also changes in their perspective regarding the land of their ancestors and the ways and means they choose to relate to it and help their relatives and the economy of the island at large. It should be taken seriously into account that any intergenerational cultural change “cannot be totally explained in terms of 'ethnicity'” (Costadopoulos-Hill, 1979) since the new generations receive all kinds of influences from the Australian education and more generally the social and political environment they live in.
Consequently, these attitudes, although they have mainly to do with the conditions in which they grow up in Australia, are not really completely irrelevant from the deep changes that took place in the economic and social conditions in Kythera and the different needs and necessities generated thereof for the local population. In practical terms, the Australian Kytherians revise, thus, the old ways of Kythera- born ancestors on how and to what extent to support the island and the islanders. Although, remittances continue to flow, they are not as large as they used to be in the earlier years and as urgent as they were then to cover vital needs of relatives. Nevertheless, the overall direct and indirect economic contributions to the people of the island, not necessarily the relatives, are perhaps even more generous and effective than in the past.

Today, all generations together share in the financial benefits created by the ever rising visits to Kythera, helping the economy of the island, by supporting, in effect, the two major income and employment generating sectors, namely tourism and construction. This is done in various different ways: through the visitors’ current living expenses; through the repair of old houses or building of new; through the business endeavors of those who have developed economic activities on the island and through their direct donations and charities.

But in addition, the intangible benefits that are created by the acquaintance of the new generations with the land of their ancestors are enormous, for the Australian-Kytherians themselves, but also for Kythera through the strong ties developed through these visits.

Balancing Costs and Benefits at the end of the Century Long Migration Cycle

Attempting some kind of an overall evaluation of the century-long migration of Kytherians to Australia, deploying the whole story from the early migrants up to and including the third-plus generation, what can we make of it? And, what are the right questions to ask for the future and from what perspective? The previous discussion amply shows that the financial “debt” owed by those left for Australia to those staying behind on the island has been entirely settled by the first generation, so that the cost-benefit account for the subsequent generations, looked at from the perspective of the island, has only benefits to offer for the individuals, the families and the Kytherian community.

In contrast to the monetary, the psychological cost of migration, because it has to do with feelings and emotions cannot ever disappear, it is always there; it does not wear off, at least for the first generation. It may only over time, and as the family conditions in Kythera and in Australia change, be transformed from personal emotional suffering for the family into love, nostalgia or patriotism for the mother land. For both, those living in Australia and those staying in Kythera, one can say that some of the psychological burden is partly compensated, at least temporarily, through the rejoicing and the euphoria generated by the frequent visits to Kythera, or vice versa.

It should, last, be noted that any “open account” that existed during the periods of the mass emigration was between the split parts of the family in the two countries, whereas from the perspective of the Kytherian families in Australia, any “debt” that may have evolved for the second and next generation is confined to Australia alone; it is the usual intra-family obligation, which it can generally be mutual from parents to children and from children to parents. The first is the usual monetary cost, as well as the care of raising and upbringing children, while the second is the obligation and the gratitude of children to acknowledge their parents sacrifices, which is usually expressed in intangible ways, as love, respect, compassion, etc, not excluding of course and financial support, which is perhaps not so much expected as was in the old times by the relatives on the island from their departed members.

Conclusion and a way to move forward

Let me terminate the core of this presentation, by asking the question often put forward for the Greek migration in general: Is emigration from Greece ‘a blessing or a curse’? The answer that has been given depended on the perspective and the timing of the query, and also on the point of view of the appraiser; some interpret it as a “blessing” and others as a “curse”. In my own view, with the advantage of a hindsight, under the circumstances prevailing in Kythera at the time of the rush exodus and the gloomy economic prospects in the island, emigration could be characterized as a “curse”, depopulating the island with all its economic and other consequences described. However, contrasting this situation with the benefits accruing to the migrants themselves and the island at large, migration turned over time and across generations into a “blessing” for both Kythera and more so for those who left the island and their descendants.

Having thus established that migration is eventually a “blessing”, and in view of the fact that the movement from Kythera to Australia has practically come to an end, a second pertinent question to ask is how this blessing can be sustained and the inter-country-Kythera-Australia –beneficial connection further improved, particularly in respect to the third generation, which should, in my view, be the focus of any action.
Let me mention, in this context, as a general guiding principle, the phrase attributed to John Kennedy: “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. In our case, this phrase may have a realistic meaning and a useful content if it is preceded by another phrase and the connotations it may carry: “ask first what your country can do for you to motivate and enable you to do what you can for your country”. Country here refers to both Kythera and the Kytherian community of Australia.

Before proceeding on what to do for the third-plus generation and why anything owed to be done, we must realize that any objectives in this matter are by their nature open-ended objectives and cannot have a terminal goal or a terminal year, as for instance when you start building a house that it will sometime be finished, and that’s it. Instead, the open-ended objectives of our case are pursued perpetually, improving things over time without ever reaching an end.

Being that as it may, it raises a series of philosophical or, one might say, existential questions for building up a strategic framework within which to set objectives for dealing with the third generation and apply the appropriate policies to implement these objectives. It should be considered that any serious endeavors in this respect require a long period of maturity in order to be able to bear the desirable fruits.

These philosophical questions would have a workable and practical value if they are to lead to policies that will materialize the objectives set. Such questions could be: For whose benefit is a certain objective set? Is it for the Kytherians on the island or for the Australian Kytherians? What do we expect to gain from meetings like this symposium here? If I am not mistaken, this is for the purpose of offering the opportunity for an ever greater rapprochement of Kytherians of the world and the development of a global Kytherian brotherhood, and especially for the new generations to learn about their national roots. But why we do all this? What is it that we are trying ultimately to accomplish? Is it, as is often argued, because we don’t want that the third-plus generation of Australian Kytherians be “lost”? And what does it mean lost? And for whom is the loss? Is it for Kythera, for Greece or for the third generation themselves as Kytherian nationals? And why are we interested whether they are “lost”? Is it because if they are alienated they won’t be able to help the island economically or otherwise? Is it because we want the presence of a robust Greek active world community outside Greece that is familiar with the problems of the country and we expect them to help us in various ways? Or finally, we want the new generations to get acquainted with the land of their ancestors, learn the history of the island and feel proud and happy for their roots and nothing else? I keep saying ‘we’. But then, who are “we” that ask all these questions? For answering them and setting up priority objectives and policies, we must first find out what these new generations of Australian Greeks really want and how they are prepared to cooperate.
Someone might say: the purpose of any actions regarding the new generations should accommodate all these queries and probably more, because all are pertinent and necessary and constitute a global approach for the handling of the issue at hand. No objection. But this is a vast and difficult territory to cover, calling for a variety of actions and policies that entail high costs and tremendous effort. Thus, there is the need for a hierarchy and the setting of priorities of objectives and actions inside the described broad strategic framework, in order to be able to deal effectively with such multidimensional and complex issues.
Until however such an ambitious undertaking can be systematically tackled, and in the spirit of Kytheraismos’ doings that are certainly in the right direction, giving a big push to these ideas, I would like to propose a few practical suggestions, some of which are already at work: First, the better organizational and economic support of the local associations and brotherhoods and the more intensive involvement of the church in the design and implementation of whatever policies are selected for the third generation. Second, energetic actions for a more direct and effective accessibility to the website referring to Kythera and the Kytherian diaspora, by designing and implementing programs attractive to the new generations, which should operate not passively-let anyone that might be interested search the web that is being there-but actively. In other words, motivate the new generations to search the web, by bringing, in effect, the web to the new generations through e-mail messages or any other convenient means of alert and communication.
Third, make an effort to attract as many youth as possible in the Kytheraismos symposia, giving them the opportunity to speak and exchange views. Fourth, considering that an important channel that may influence the third generation is of course their parents and grandparents, if they so desire, they could perhaps follow some convenient orientation briefings on how to approach their children and grand-children for helping them in the best way they can to get acquainted with their roots. It has being empirically found, for instance, that the third generation has acquired some familiarity with the Greek culture “mainly through their grandparents” rather than their parents (Costadopoulos-Hill, 1979).


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