Intergenerational Relationships among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans

By Ishii-Kuntz, Masako | Family Relations, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Intergenerational Relationships among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans


Ishii-Kuntz, Masako, Family Relations


Previous studies that have focused on Asian American intergenerational relationships used the cultural concept of filial obligation to explain an adult child's commitment to his/her elderly parents. Using data gathered from 628 Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans and their elderly parents, this study found that such financial and structural factors as an adult child's income and his/her parent's need for assistance significantly influenced the frequency of an adult child's support for his/her parents. The effects of filial obligation on an adult child's provision of support for his/her parents change depending on several of these financial and structural factors. The magnitude of these relationships varies, however, among three groups of Asian Americans. It is therefore necessary to examine interaction effects of cultural, financial, and structural factors on Asian American intergenerational relationships as well as the diversity of these relationships within the Asian American population.

The Asian American population grew by 141% between the censuses of 1970 and 1980 while the total U.S. population increased by only 11%. The corresponding growth for the 1980-90 decade was 10% for the general population and 99% for Asian Americans. Demographers project that the Asian American population will rise to almost 10 million in the next decade and to almost 20 million by the year 2030 (Barringer, Gardner, & Levin, 1993). Despite this dramatic population growth, we know little about Asian American families and their intergenerational relationships, in particular. Studies that examined Asian American families focused primarily on how these families contributed to the educational and occupational success of their children (e.g., Nee & Wong, 1985; Yao, 1985). Researchers often attribute Asian Americans' relative success to emphasis on education, a strong parent-child bond, and Asian cultural values. Other studies found that Asian Americans seldom take advantage of counseling and mental health services (e.g., Gim, Atkinson, & Kim, 1991) which may be interpreted as Asian Americans are capable of caring for their family members without any outside assistance. These findings not only support the model minority myth placed on Asian Americans (see Suzuki, 1977 for the critique) but also gives rise to another myth: Asian Americans have ideal families.

Included in the ideal family myth is that Asian Americans have great respect for their elderly family members. It has long been assumed that Asian American adult children feel more obligated to their parents, provide more financial aid to their parents, and interact more frequently with their parents than White adult children do (e.g., Osako, 1976). Research has also found a prevalence of intergenerational coresidence among Asian Americans. Using 1980 Census data, Kamo and Zhou (1994) found that coresidence between Chinese American and Japanese American elderly parents and their married adult children is higher than that of their White counterparts. They concluded that Asian American intergenerational coresidence is strongly influenced by the traditional value of filial responsibility. Therefore, elderly Asian Americans are often considered integrated into their supportive kin network. This "rosy" picture, however, may not always hold. Osako and Liu (1986), for example, found that Japanese American elderly parents who resided with their children were not necessarily less lonely than those who maintained an independent residence. Moreover, there is tremendous diversity in intergenerational relationships among Asian Americans due to generational differences and immigration experiences. Therefore, it may be too simplistic to characterize Asian American intergenerational relationships by the concept of filial obligation. It may also be premature to conclude that Asian American elderly need little outside support because of their children's strong sense of filial obligation. …

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