Date of Award

4-21-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Heying Jenny Zhan - Chair

Second Advisor

Elisabeth Burgess

Third Advisor

Charles Jaret

Fourth Advisor

James Ainsworth

Abstract

Mass rural-urban migration and population aging are occurring simultaneously at a rapid speed in contemporary China. Tens of millions of rural young laborers have been migrating to urban areas to meet the demand for cheap labor, whereas large numbers of elderly parents (the Chinese baby boomers) are left behind in the impoverished villages. Consequently, adult children are becoming more and more unavailable to fulfill their elder care responsibilities. This study took a systematic look at how the increasing rural-urban migration shaped the elder care practices in rural Chinese families and how rural elders respond and adapt to this social transformation. Using data from a rural household survey conducted by Renming University in 2004 in three in-land migrant-exporting provinces, this study explored three aspects of elder-care dynamics in China: 1. The patterns of financial care for rural elders whose adult children had migrated to urban areas. 2. Rural elders’ perceptions of filial piety at this time of social change. 3. Rural elders’ self-evaluation of life satisfaction at this historical period of time. The theoretical model of Political Economy of Aging (PEA) and criticism of classic modernization theory were used to guide the generation of hypotheses and analyses of statistical data. Findings from this study revealed that financial care by migrated children was mainly based on an exchange-based model; rural elders who took care of grandchildren received more financial support. With the continued provision of financial care and emotional care, rural elders continued to hold relatively positive evaluation of their migrated children’s filial piety, even though physical care was absent. Thus, the author argued that within the context of rural-urban migration, filial piety was not undergoing decline or erosion; rather, its meanings and significance have been broadened by their elderly parents to adapt to dramatic social changes currently underway in China. Finally this study found that the exchange-based pattern of financial care and the continuation of filial piety had a positive impact on rural elders’ life satisfaction. This study contributes to the knowledge body of elder care in China and provides insightful policy suggestions for the Chinese government.

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