Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Structure of Intergenerational Relations in Rural China: A Latent Class Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Structure of Intergenerational Relations in Rural China: A Latent Class Analysis

Article excerpt

Most existing typology studies of intergenerational relations have used samples in North America and Europe. The present study expands on previous research by determining whether similar family relation typologies could be found using a sample of Chinese rural elders. The data were derived from a survey of 1,224 older adults in China's rural Anhui province in 2009. Latent class analysis revealed 5 types of intergenerational relations in rural Chinese families: (a) tight-knit, (b) nearby but discordant, (c) distant discordant, (d) distant reciprocal, and (e) distant ascending. The authors argue that the distant ascending ties reflect the strong filial obligations that Chinese adult children have toward their parents and that the distant reciprocal ties reflect collaborative and mutually beneficial parent - child relations in rural China in the context of massive rural-to-urban migration. The findings of this study demonstrate how family relations in contemporary China are shaped by the larger economic, geographic, and cultural contexts.

Key Words: aging, family relations, latent class analysis, rural families, social context, typology studies.

Family relations have many facets. The intergenerational solidarity model classifies intergenerational relations into six elements: (a) association, (b) structures, (c) function, (d) affection, (e) consensus, and (f) familism norms (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991). Krause (2001) identified four similar dimensions of family support: (a) informational support, (b) tangible help, (c) emotional support, and (d) integration. Despite increasing knowledge of the multifaceted nature of family relations, most existing studies have focused on discrete dimensions of family ties, overlooking potential linkages among the different domains. One possible reason for the lack of studies on multidimensional family relations is that the multiple dimensions usually have different functions and consequences and therefore are not simply additive and do not form a unitary construct (Krause). Nevertheless, questions arise: Are particular aspects of family relations commonly linked, reflecting the needs and resources of each generation? Do the various dimensions each represents a separate aspect of relations, or are they multiple indicators of some underlying structure of reciprocity among family members in different social contexts?

As an alternative to a single-dimensional approach, typology methods using classification analyses provide a useful tool to depict complex family relations by capturing the associations among multiple dimensions and identifying underlying structures of them. Existing typology studies of family relations have been mainly conducted with samples in North America, Europe, and Israel (Chan, 2008; Dykstra & Fokkema, 2011; Silverstein & Bengtson, 1997; Silverstein, Gans, Lowenstein, Giarrusso, & Bengtson, 2010; Van Gaalen & Dykstra, 2006). Whether similar structures can be applied to parent- child relations in less developed nations is virtually unknown. To fill the research gaps, and to contribute to the knowledge of family dynamics in developing countries, in the present study we used latent class analysis (LCA) to investigate the underlying structure of multidimensional family relations in rural China.


Multiple Dimensions of Intergenerational Relations: Theoretical Background

One influential conceptual framework for understanding the diversity in family relations is the intergenerational solidarity model (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991). The model classifies family relations into six analytic dimensions: (a) associational (type and frequency of interaction and activities), (b) structural (factors [e.g., geographic distance] that influence the extent of interaction), (c) functional (exchange of assistance and support), (d) affectional (sentiments and feelings), (e) consensual (agreement between generations on opinions and values), and (f) normative relations (the extent to which family members share expectations of family life). …

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