Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changes in Living Arrangement and Familial Support for the Elderly in Taiwan: 1963-1991

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changes in Living Arrangement and Familial Support for the Elderly in Taiwan: 1963-1991

Article excerpt

Sociologists have long been interested in the study of the interrelationship between economic development and family structure, size and values (e.g., Goode, 1963; Parsons, 1943; Thornton & Fricke, 1987). The phenomenal advancement of the Taiwanese economy after the early 1960's provides a natural experiment to examine how industrialization, urbanization and economic growth impact familial relationships. Using this unique opportunity we analyze the extent of change that take place in the realm of family support for the elderly during a period of rapid industrialization and economic growth, thereby providing important insights into the relationship between economic growth and familial support for the elderly.

The start of this study period - 1963, marks the beginning of the export oriented phase of Taiwanese economy and the resultant explosive economic growth. By 1991 Taiwan had made a niche among the world's giant industrial powers. Indeed, Taiwan is one of the few countries in Asia that has experienced rapid and sustained economic growth placing it between the advanced commercial and industrial countries of the world. For the past three decades or so Taiwan has enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 8.8%. Its per capita G.N.P. have risen from less than $200 in the early 60's to more than $8000 in 1991 (Rep. China, 1991). Not only in terms of income, but also in respect of other wide ranging indicators such as, declining share of the primary sector in G.N.P., technological advancement, and progress in communication networks, Taiwan has performed remarkably well. The last three decades have also seen rapid geographic and social mobility among individuals giving rise to increasing urbanization and growing majority of the labor force engaged in non-agricultural activities (Rep. of China, 1991). The impact of these economic changes on the social sphere, in particular, the cultural tradition of providing care and support for the elderly by the family, is an interesting area of study.

We study two types of elderly support: co-residence with parents and intergenerational financial transfers. In addition, we also examine if the recent economic growth in Taiwan has altered individual attitude toward intergenerational support. An examination of the changes that have taken place in attitudes, in addition to, the actual changes observed in the incidence of co-residence and economic support, will indicate if industrialization and economic development intrinsically change the way people think, or that it merely affects living arrangement and elderly support because it alters the economic and structural parameters to which people simply respond.

THEORY AND LITERATURE REVIEW

There is a broad consensus regarding the general pattern of change that takes place with economic development in the family support system for the elderly. The literature based on economic theory posits that economic development undermines the support provided by the families to their elderly members. Industrialization and urbanization, it is argued, are likely to erode children's care of the elderly by undermining familial mode of production, increasing wives, labor force participation and producing greater physical separation between the generations (Mason, 1992). In a similar vein, the Structuralist-- Functionalist and Modernization theories in Sociology predict that economic development results in a breakdown of the traditional norms and increases the emphasis on the nuclear family leading to a weakening of the ties between adult children and their parents (Goode, 1963; Parsons, 1943), Despite this general consensus, however, its applicability to non western societies has been debated (Hashimoto et al., 1992; Martin, 1990) on the grounds that these societies have an inherently different cultural, social, structural, and economic base from that of the western developed countries. Particularly in East Asia, the strongly ingrained cultural basis of family responsibility for support and care of the elderly lead to the continuation of old traditions of parent-son coresidence (Morgan & Hiroshima, 1983) and financial support (Hermalin et al. …

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