Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Gender, Sibling Position and Parental Expectations: A Study of Chinese College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Gender, Sibling Position and Parental Expectations: A Study of Chinese College Students

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Differences in parental expectations related to cultural background, gender and sibling position were investigated among Chinese college students in Macau. Three-hundred and forty-four Chinese college students completed a questionnaire which included measures of parental expectations and psychological distress, as well as information about their gender, cultural background (Mainland China or Macau) and sibling position. Participants born in mainland China reported significantly higher perceived parental expectations (PPE) compared with students from Macau. Contrary to predictions, there was no evidence of a difference in PPE in relation to gender or being the first-born sibling. These finding are discussed in terms of changes in family values and parental attitudes within Chinese society over the past few decades.

KEYWORDS: Chinese, parenting, gender, siblings, students


A range of studies have indicated that students experience significant levels of psychological distress during their time in college (American College Health Association, 2009; Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2003; Stewart-Brown et al., 2000; Watanabe, 1999; Webb, Ashton, Kelly, & Kamali, 1996). One factor which has been identified as contributing to this distress is parental expectations (Archer & Lamnin, 1985; Tran, Lee, & Khoi, 1996). This has been confirmed by several studies which have explored the relationship between parental expectations and psychological distress (Agliata & Renk, 2009; Costigan, Hua, & Su, 2010; Wang & Heppner, 2002).

In Asian cultures, which emphasize family ties, parental expectations are particularly important (Chao & Tseng, 2002; Kim & Park, 2006; Oishi & Sullivan, 2005). This may be especially true of Chinese societies whose traditional Confucian culture emphasizes, amongst other ideals, xiao (which is commonly translated as 'filial piety'), referring to the respect and obedience expected of the young toward their parents and other elder members of the family (Kwan, 2000). This concept is conventionally seen as permeating Chinese family life and is not only restricted to childhood and adolescence. Instead, the concept of xiao also extends throughout life and includes 'establishing oneself, practicing The Way, spreading the fame of one's name to posterity, so that one's parents become renowned--that is the end of xiao' (Feng, 2008, p. 4). One of the ways this traditional Confucian ideal manifests itself is in high parental expectations for offspring in terms of educational achievement (Ho, 1981).

In addition to generally high parental expectations, Chinese parents also have different expectations for sons and daughters (Ho, 1989). For example, in Taiwan, Yu and Su (2006) reported gender differences in educational resource allocation and in parental perceptions of the utility of schooling, with male offspring treated preferentially. Parents also expected that their sons would earn more money compared with daughters. As well as differences in relation to offspring gender, parental expectations also differed with respect to sibling position (i.e., first born, second born etc.). According to Yu and Su, male firstborns experienced a 0.65 year gain in educational attainment (measured as years of formal schooling) after controlling for socio-economic status and other factors. In contrast no such advantage was evident for first-born daughters. Yu and Su concluded that 'a firstborn son can secure a relatively large share of educational resources, regardless of family wealth'" (Yu & Su, 2006, p. 1066). These findings are consistent with the traditional Chinese perspective of extending the family name through the son, in particular the first-born son, resulting in concomitantly higher parental expectations.

As well as cultural values associated with the family, the family has also been a pre-occupation of the Chinese state since the 1950s. …

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