Independence and Obedience: An Analysis of Child Socialization Values in the United States and China [*]

Article excerpt

HONG XIAO [**]

Child socialization values, the values that parents hold high in teaching children, occupy a central place in the studies of the family and social stratification. Socialization values not only condition parental behavior in childrearing practices, they also help shape children's value systems and behavior, which affect their life chances and pathways to success. Thus, an examination of the patterns of socialization values enhances our understanding of the process of status reproduction and social mobility. In the abundant research that has been undertaken primarily in the United States, there is a consensus that parents differ on a common set of values they desire in children. This set of values are independence and obedience. Among the ecological factors that influence parental valuation of independence and obedience, the role of social class is particularly significant and consistent. Studies over the past several decades have found that, while middle class parents place greater emphasis on their children's independence, working class parents are more concerned with their children's obedience (Alwin, 1988; Gecas, 1979; Grimm-Thomas and Perry-Jenkins, 1994; Kohn, 1977; Spade, 1991). It is argued that while parents' valuation of independence facilitates children's upward mobility, parents' emphasis on obedience prohibits it (Kohn, 1977).

Child socialization values may vary across societies as well as across individuals. Socialization, the process by which children are educated with the attitudes, values, and behaviors of a society, exists in every culture of the world. Because the general social structure is influenced by culture, the content of socialization is also based on the salient cultural values of the society. Due to the influence of cultural history and social systems, characteristics valued in children in one society may not be valued in another. In addition, ecological factors that are closely linked to a particular child socialization value in one culture may not be associated to that value in another. This research investigates national differences in child socialization values in the United States and China. While a few previous studies have examined child socialization values and their predictors from a comparative point, the focus has often been on the relationships between social systems and child socialization values within different societies (Barry et al., 1976; Ellis and Petersen, 1992; Kohn et al., 1990; Pearlin and Kohn, 1966). In this research, I give a straightforward. U.S. -- China comparison and test hypotheses suggested in literature pertaining to child socialization values in these two countries. Specifically, I explore two topics. First, I seek to demonstrate where and how Americans and Chinese differ in their orientations toward children. Second, I seek to explain the national differences by probing into the sources of value variations in the two countries.

Why should we compare child socialization values in the United States and China? The two countries represent two distinct social systems and cultures. The United States, the world's largest economy, is an advanced capitalist society and is for many the prototype of "the West." China, with the world's largest population, is an industrializing socialist society and has traditionally represented "the East." Comparisons of the two countries enhance our knowledge about where the two cultures and social systems converge and diverge. As our world becomes more global and increasingly interdependent, knowledge and understanding of other cultures become more vital to success in both competition and cooperation. This study seeks such knowledge and understanding.

NATIONAL CULTURE OF THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA

The United States and China are two societies with distinctive cultures. While American culture is centered in the values derived from Judeo-Christian roots, Chinese culture is built upon a value system crystallized mainly in Confucianism. …

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