Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Differences in Adult Children's Support of Their Parents in Taiwan

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Differences in Adult Children's Support of Their Parents in Taiwan

Article excerpt

This paper examines the patterns and determinants of four types of support provided by adult children to their parents, with particular attention to differences in the helping behaviors of sons and daughters. The data come from the 1989 wave of the Survey of Health and Living Status of the Elderly in Taiwan. The analysis is based on 12,166 adult children from 2,527 families. We find that usually only one child in a family provides help with activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), but.for

financial or material support the responsibility is likely to be shared among siblings. Sons generally carry the major responsibility for taking care of their older parents, and daughters fulfill the son's roles when sons are not available.

Key Words: gender differences, provision of support, Taiwan.

Taiwan is one of the newly industrialized societies that have experienced rapid demographic, economic, and social changes over the second half of the last century. Between 1952 and 2000, life expectancy at birth increased by about 20 years, whereas total fertility dropped by nearly five births (Population Reference Bureau, 2001). As a result of this demographic transition, the percentage of people who are 65 years or older has almost quadrupled from 2.5 to 9 and is expected to rise to 14% of the population by the year 2020 (Li, 1994). Taiwan has been transformed from a rural, agricultural society to a highly urbanized, industrial one (Hermalin, Liu, & Freedman, 1994): For example, the percentage of the population living in cities has tripled, the percentage of the labor force engaged in agriculture has decreased from 56.1 to 13.7, and per capita income has grown more than ninefold over this period.

Despite these far-reaching changes, most parents in Taiwan continue to live with their adult children, particularly their married sons (Chang, 1999; Ofstedal, Knodel, & Chayovan, 1999; Sun & Liu, 1994; Weinstein, Sun, Chang, & Freedman, 1990). The direction of financial flows is still dominated by transfers from adult children to their parents (Lee, Parish, & Willis, 1994; Sun & Liu, 1994), in part because placing parents in a nursing home has been perceived as a violation of traditional filial obligations (Kao & Stuifbergen, 1999), and in part because the government provides minimal protection from potential economic hardship. The preference for family assistance and the lack of institutional support underscore the importance for older persons of help provided by members of social networks, particularly adult children.

Although a number of studies have examined intergenerational transfers in Taiwan (e.g., Chattopadhyay & Marsh, 1999; Hermalin, Ofstedal, & Chang, 1996; Hermalin, Ofstedal, & Lee, 1992; Ofstedal et al., 1999; Sun & Liu, 1994), most are descriptive or reflect the perspective of the aging parents, rather than the children. Previous studies have examined the prevalence of support among older adults, the number and type of kin available for support, and factors determining whether aging parents receive support, but little is known about the underlying mechanisms by which adult children provide support to their parents (an exception is Lee et al., 1994).

The objective of the present study is to extend prior research by examining the empirical evidence in Taiwan for a set of five explanations of why adult children provide support to their aging parents. A related goal is to compare and contrast the helping behaviors of sons and daughters. There are two salient aspects of Taiwanese society that motivate this detailed examination of gender differences in the provision of support by children. First, Taiwan is a patriarchal society in which sons bear the primary responsibility of continuing the descent line of the father's family. Although a daughter belongs to her father's family before marriage, she joins the descent line of her husband's family upon marriage (Wolf, 1972). …

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