Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Living Arrangements of Elderly Chinese and Japanese in the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Living Arrangements of Elderly Chinese and Japanese in the United States

Article excerpt

Living arrangements of elderly persons have been extensively studied in Asian countries and in the United States. Particularly at issue has been whether the elderly live in an extended family household, a nuclear family household, live alone, or in an institution. Cohabitation of two or more adult generations has been very common in most Asian countries. In China, the three-generation family continues to be an important family type today. A recent study estimated the proportion of three-generation and other extended family households in China at 20% in 1987 (Yi, 1991). More than half of the rural persons aged 60 years and over and more than a third of their urban counterparts lived in three-generation households in 1987 (Yi, 1991). In Japan, half of elderly persons lived with their married children in the early to mid-1980s (Kojima, 1989; Zenkoku Shakai Fukushi Kyogikai, 1982). Although the proportion of elderly parents living with married children in Japan is declining, the process seems to be very slow.

In the United States, however, extended family households have never prevailed. Even during the preindustrial era, this pattern was temporary and seldom widespread (Doty, 1986; Gordon, 1978: B. Laslett, 1978; P. Laslett, 1972). In the 1980s, about 8% of non-Hispanic white Americans lived in households containing at least one extended family member (Angel & Tienda, 1982). In 1981, only 3% of elderly persons aged 60 years or older in the United States lived with their married children (Zenkoku Shakai Fukushi Kyogikai, 1982). The proportion was estimated higher at 6% among elderly American women (Wolf & Soldo, 1988).

Despite noticeable differences in patterns of elderly living arrangements in Asian countries and in the United States, relatively little is known about how these patterns have changed as persons of Asian origin become integrated into American society. As Cowgill (1986) observes, "Chinese and Japanese people carry the culture pattern with them when they migrate to other parts of the world, although the circumstances of the migration and the treatment in the host country obviously condition the duration and strength of its persistence" (p. 44). This paper addresses several related issues. How do living arrangements of elderly Chinese and Japanese differ from those of non-Hispanic whites? What determines the living arrangements of elderly Chinese and Japanese Americans? To what extent do immigrant status and processes of assimilation affect these living arrangements? We examine these issues using the 1980 U.S. Census data.


Theories about elderly living arrangements in Asian countries have emphasized the effects of modernization and culture. Modernization theory has focused on the effects of technological advancement, industrialization, modern education, and functional specialization on aging and the family. The modernization theory of aging and elderly living arrangements may be summarized in Cowgill's (1986) argument. First, the development of health technology has increased longevity. This has resulted in prolonged retirement of the elderly which is often accompanied by a significant loss of income and social prestige. Second, industrialization has required a separation of work from home and a highly mobile work force, which has weakened familial ties to a particular geographical area. Third, modern education has led to changes in values and intellectual development across generations. Younger people have come to place greater emphasis on self-fulfillment as individuals rather than on their responsibilities toward their kin. Finally, increased specialization in social institutions has reduced traditional family functions. Modernization makes extended family living less essential and economically less advantageous, and thus facilitates the transition to nuclear family living arrangements.

Modernization has promoted nuclear family households, which are compatible with the mobile and flexible nature of modern living. …

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