Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Marriage Form and Duration of Postmarital Co-Residence with Parents in Rural China: Evidence from Songzi*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Marriage Form and Duration of Postmarital Co-Residence with Parents in Rural China: Evidence from Songzi*

Article excerpt


Family and kinship system generally refers to the customary, normative manner in which family processes unfold, i.e., the usual preferred pattern of family practices and household dynamics. The key elements usually included in the family system are marriage type, succession, property inheritance, residential arrangements, and power structures characterized by gender and age within the family (Skinner, 1997). Throughout history, rural Chinese society has been dominated by a traditional patrilineal family system, of which the male-centered marriage form and residential arrangement are the two core elements. Under this system, virilocal marriage and co-residence with the husband's parents after marriage occupy an overwhelmingly dominant position. That is, parents call in a daughter-in-law for each of their sons and marry all of their daughters out to other families, and newly weds must reside with the husband's parents for a period of time until they divide from the parents' family and set up their own residence, or until both parents pass away.

Thus, children's duration of postmarital co-residence with their parents defines two important events in their life course, beginning with marriage and ending by division from parental home. The decision by a junior conjugal unit to end co-residence with parents and establish a separate family economy, reflected in separate family budgets and cooking facilities, is more widely known as division of hearths (Cohen, 1976; Shiga, 1978; Lavely and Ren, 1992). Before the division, a son co-residing with parents and sharing the same household economy with parents would automatically provide economic and non-economic support for his elderly parents. After the division, the son, usually living in the same courtyard of in close proximity within the same village as his parents, has financial and other obligations and duties in support of his older parents. Consequently, duration of co-residence and timing of family division are important components of relations between sons and parents. In addition, marriage, co-residence, and family division are among the most important events in family dynamics, leading to joint, stem and nuclear families, the different family types, and driving family expansion. Therefore, duration of co-residence with parents in contemporary rural China is an important part of the country's social demography.

Recent studies show that, with modernization and significant progress in the economic, social and population structure of rural China, the length of postmarital co-residence with parents for junior conjugal units has decreased, and in a number of places, it has even become a symbolic procedure (Lavely and Ren, 1992; Yan, 1998). This in turn has produced trends towards nuclearization of the family, relative stabilization of the stem family, and rapid decline of the joint family structure (Zeng, 1986; Yan, 1998; Li et al., 2001a). A similar phenomenon has also been observed in Taiwan (Freedman et al., 1978, 1982; Weinstein et al., 1990).

To date, studies on couple's duration of postmarital co-residence with parents are mainly based on virilocal marriage, while studies, especially quantitative studies, based on uxorilocal marriage are few. There are two kinds of causes underlying this phenomenon. First, uxorilocal marriage, in which a couple resides with the wife's parents after marriage, is an occasional variant of the dominant virilocal marriage under the patrilineal family system and has rarely been prevalent in the history of rural China. As a result, it has not yet drawn extensive attention from researchers. Second, there are few detailed surveys about the duration of co-residence between uxorilocal couples and the wives' parents. However, new surveys are beginning to provide the necessary data for exploring marriage form and family dynamics in rural China.

In a previous study, we used data from a survey in Songzi county to study marriage form and family division with a focus on the following questions (Li et al. …

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