Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Regional Differences in Household Composition and Family Formation Patterns in Vietnam

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Regional Differences in Household Composition and Family Formation Patterns in Vietnam

Article excerpt


In a classic piece on Vietnam almost 25 years old, Terry Rambo (1973) clearly demonstrated the relevance of taking a regional approach to the study of this country. His comparative study of a village of the North and one of the South established a model for Vietnamese studies ever since. Recently, a number of studies on the Vietnamese society have further developed this perspective to show different patterns of behavior between provinces and regions among members of the majoritarian Kinh (Vietnamese) ethnic group. Works on sociodemographic behaviors such as marriage (Goodkind, 1996) and fertility (Allman et al., 1991; Nguyen et al., 1996; Barbieri et al., 1996) have uncovered contrasting patterns, particularly between the northern and the southern regions. Studies of household composition have also pointed to regional differences (Hirshman and Vu, 1996; Be 1 anger, 1997b). In this paper, we explore regional variations in household composition by focusing on the living arrangements of young couples.

The main question addressed by this article is whether or not part of the regional differences observed in household structure can be explained by different patterns of postnuptial coresidence among parents and young married children. The theoretical link between household composition and coresidence patterns between generations relies on analyses of stylized versions of family systems, namely the conjugal, stem and joint systems (Davis and Blake, 1955; Hajnal, 1982). Postnuptial coresidence, for example, is associated with the joint family system in which all sons join the parental home with their spouse. The necessity to set up a new household after marriage, in turn, is an aspect of the conjugal family system. In the stem family system, postnuptial coresidence may occur for one child only or for all of them, although usually as a prelude to the set up of a new household.

This study is based on data from the Vietnam Living Standards Survey conducted in 1992-1993 (VLSS 1992-93) on a nationally representative sample of 4800 households. Our results on household structure confirm that household composition is another area of Vietnamese society revealing regional variations, the strongest being between the North and South. A higher proportion of nuclear families is found in the North, while more extended and multiple family households exist in the South. Analyses focusing on the household of young couples are based on a sub sample of 1632 couples in which the wife is between 15 and 34. Results suggest that young couples of the southern regions tend to live with their parents more often, and for a longer period, than young couples of the North. Furthermore, couples of the South and of the Center display more flexibility as to whether to live with paternal or maternal kin, whereas couples of the North feature a clear preference for coresiding with paternal kin. The question as to why the Vietnamese households differ across the country is addressed in the discussion. We review the explanations put forward in the literature, namely housing stock characteristics, success of the socialist revolution, cultural influences and migration patterns. While our study focuses on the living arrangements of Vietnamese people today, we recognize that family relationships are considerably more complex, and therefore cannot be addressed in a study of household composition alone.


The Vietnamese family is often described as being Confucian, thus involving partilinearity, patrilocality and patriarchy. However, observations on the Vietnamese family based on precolonial and colonial sources do not entirely coincide with this view. Research based on these sources confirm the centrality of patrilinearity, but at the same time, highlight a certain degree of autonomy of individuals (Haines, 1984; Yu, 1978), particularly for recently married children and for women. The principle of autonomy concerns the position of married children towards their parents. …

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