Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coresidence with Elderly Parents: A Comparative Study of Southeast China and Taiwan

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coresidence with Elderly Parents: A Comparative Study of Southeast China and Taiwan

Article excerpt

Using recent survey data from the Panel Study of Family Dynamics (PSFD) on 1,655 married persons born in 1964-1976 in southeastern China and Taiwan, we studied coresidence with elderly parents using a multinomial probit model for coresidence type and an ordered probit model for residential distance. The study yielded four findings: (a) Patrilocal coresidence was more prevalent in Taiwan than in China; (b) matrilocal coresidence was more prevalent in China; (c) practical factors mattered in both places; (d) in Taiwan only, a couple's economic resources facilitated breaking away from patrilocal coresidence. The findings suggest that, although economic development does not necessarily result in less traditional familial culture, personal economic resources may enable individual couples to deviate from tradition.

Key Words: China, coresidence, family, gender, residential distance, Taiwan.

In Chinese tradition, the ideal family form is an extended, joint household with multiple generations coresiding along male lineages (Chu, Xie, & Yu, 2007; Greenhalgh, 1985; Parish & Willis, 1993, 1994; Thornton & Lin, 1994). In this patrilineal and patrilocal extended family model, the responsibility for elder care belongs to adult sons and their wives (Whyte, 2004; Whyte & Xu, 2003); for example, elderly persons are expected to live with sons, not alone or with daughters (Lin et al., 2003; Sun, 2002; Whyte & Xu, 2003).

Ample evidence indicates that this traditional family model no longer pertains to contemporary Chinese societies. In both mainland China and Taiwan, we have observed many dramatic trends over the past 50 years in demographic and family behaviors, such as a sharp decline in fertility, later ages of marriage, gradual acceptance of premarital sex, and noncoresidence with elderly parents (Chu & Yu, 2009; Hermalin, Ofstedal, & Shih, 2003; Thornton & Lin, 1994; Whyte, 2003; Whyte, Xie, & Zhu, 2009).

With respect to coresidence of married persons with elderly parents, changes from the traditional family model are also notable: elderly parents are now more likely to prefer to live by themselves. Deviation from traditional norms, in both attitude and behavior, has been well documented in Taiwan since the late 1960s (Hermalin & Yang, 2004; Weinstein, Sun, Chang, & Freedman, 1994). This might take either of two possible forms: (a) a married couple and their children living independently as a nuclear family or (b) a family living with the wife's rather than with the husband's parents.

Much of the literature on coresidence is concerned with the first form of deviation (e.g., Knodel & Ofstedal, 2002; Schoeni, 1998; Yan, Chen, & Yang, 2003). As has long been observed in many studies based on Taiwanese data (Freedman, Thornton, & Yang, 1994; Knodel & Ofstedal, 2002; Lee, Parish, & Willis, 1994; Weinstein et al., 1994), coresidence with married daughters - the second form - is uncommon. In studying social change and the Chinese family, however, matrilocal coresidence as a nontraditional family arrangement merits close attention.

In Taiwan, despite a high level of economic development and many dramatic changes, matrilocal coresidence has remained consistently uncommon for 5 decades. The percentage of households in which a married couple lives with the wife's parents was documented to be between 3% and 4% between 1965 and 1986 (Weinstein et al., 1994). Knodel and Ofstedal (2002) found that, in 1989, only 5.9% of elderly lived with married daughters, compared with 57.4% living with married sons. Although Lavely and Ren (1992) reported a similar, strongly patrilocal coresidence pattern in rural China, this gender asymmetry has been found to be much less pronounced in urban China (Logan & Bian, 1999; Logan, Bian, & Bian, 1998; Pimentel & Liu, 2004; Whyte & Xu, 2003; Xie & Zhu, 2009).

Three theoretical explanations have emerged in the literature to account for whether families in contemporary Chinese societies still practice the traditional coresidence model. …

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