Changes in Norms and Behavior concerning Extended Kin in Taipei, Taiwan, 1963-1991

By Marsh, Robert M.; Hsu, Cheng-Kuang | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Changes in Norms and Behavior concerning Extended Kin in Taipei, Taiwan, 1963-1991


Marsh, Robert M., Hsu, Cheng-Kuang, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


Changes in Norms and Behavior Concerning Extended Kin in Taipei, Taiwan, 1963-1991 *

ROBERT M. MARSH** and CHENG-KUANG HSU***

Students of the family and kinship in various societies have long been concerned with the strength of ties among extended kin-relatives of blood, marriage and adoption through one's father, mother, siblings, spouse and children. Family sociology began with the assertion that urbanization and industrialization weakened extended kinship ties and obligations, a position that was re-enforced by the modernization theorists of the 1950s and 1960s (Goode 1963). Then a two-pronged reaction set in. First, that the extent of kin isolation in metropolitan areas of advanced industrial societies had been exaggerated (Adams 1968) and second, that the primacy of the nuclear family had long antedated modern urban industrialism in Britain and North America and therefore could not be a simple result of industrialization (Laslett 1965).

This issue has been displaced by newer concerns of family sociologists in the Westthe variety of forms of intimacy and household structure "alternative" to the conventional nuclear family, "patriarchy" and gender discrimination, etc. In their review of trends in family sociology, Huber and Spitze (1988:425) note that "the field rests on a weak base. Macro theory has been slighted. Micro theory, having neglected comparative and historical data, remains mute on the topic of change." As in some other contested problems in the social sciences, the relationship between modernization and extended kinship may have been forgotten in the West, but it has not been resolved.

In any case, this issue is more alive in the East Asian newly industrializing countries (NICs), for at least two reasons that distinguish them from the West. First, their past does contain a patrilineal extended kinship system, at least as an ideal pattern, against which modernization may indeed make the kinds of inroads expected by earlier modernization theory. Second, the weakening of extended kinship ties would be a greater threat in the East Asian NICs, since they are not yet sufficiently welfare states where one can leave the care of extended kin to what accrues to them from state welfare arrangements.

Modernization theorists make an analytical distinction between ideal normative patterns and actual behavioral patterns of extended kinship. This paper examines anew the question of whether ideal and actual patterns of extended kinship solidarity follow the same parallel course during societal modernization-both decreasing, both increasing, or both remaining unchanged. That both would follow the same course was a common assumption in earlier theory. Our data from Taiwan indicate that ideal obligations to extended kin declined, while actual behavioral ties to extended kin increased. We explore and attempt to explain this unexpected Finding.

Tracing changes in the strength of ideal and actual extended kinship ties in relation to broader social changes poses the difficult problem of combining systematic, representative samples of populations with the relatively long time spans required for significant societal changes to occur. The two common research strategies represent trade-offs. The farther back in time we go, the more difficult it becomes to obtain representative samples of data on people's sense of their ideal obligations and actual behavioral ties to extended kin. Representative sample surveys can overcome this problem, but tend to have data from only a single point in time or at best a short time period. In the present study of the Taiwanese (Hokkien and Hakka) population of Taipei, the data come from two comparable sample surveys conducted 28 years apart, the first in 1963, when Taiwan's urbanization and industrialization were just on the verge of the significant rates of change that were to come, and the second in 1991, by which time Taiwan had become a highly urbanized, industrialized and relatively affluent society. …

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