Family and Social Inequalities in Chinese Societies

Title: 1279 | Family and Social Inequalities in Chinese Societies
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Sociology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Pui-chi Tangi Yip, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (organizer, presenter, chair)
Suowei Xiao, Beijing Normal University, China (presenter)
Yang Shen, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China (presenter)


This session foregrounds family, as a social institution, in the process of (re-)production of social inequalities in the Asian context. Family has long been recognized as a significant institution in perpetuating inequalities and in transferring wealth, social and cultural capitals across generations. It also intertwines with other social axes, such as gender and class, which further add complexities and tensions to its role in contemporary societies. Family has been a widely-researched area in social stratification. Parents and grandparents pass their social positions and (dis)advantages to their children. A considerable literature based on Western context has enriched our understanding about the interplays of family and social inequalities. This panel builds on the existing research and expands its focus to Asian societies that are undergoing rapid social, economic and political changes. Different from the dominant perspective in the field that has relied heavily on the analysis of quantitative data to verify hypotheses, the papers employ qualitative methods to capture mechanisms through which family shapes social inequalities and vice versa. The panel includes three papers on 1) intergenerational transmission of housing expectations and housing resources in Hong Kong, 2) social class and paid-care migration in China, and, 3) changing state’s policy in birth control and its implications in women’s work and domestic responsibilities.

Panel Abstracts:
Homeownership, Intergeneration, Gender: A Case Study of Hong Kong
This paper explores the relationship among housing, intergenerational relationship and gender. Based on in-depth interview data with 30 young people aged between 25-33 in Hong Kong, it uncovers the process of how parents transit their children to become homeowners from a gender-sensitive lens. Given the soaring house prices and growing difficulties in housing-buying in different global cities, including the research site of this paper, the role of parents and their assistance have become increasingly vital. However, existing discussion tends to address parents’ immediate and visible form of assistance - financial help, without paying attention to other long-term and less-visible dimensions. This paper identifies 4 other mechanisms apart from financial assistance – physical support, emotional reconfirmation, transfer of financial skills and socialization of gendered homeownership norms. The findings are twofold. Firstly, in the Chinese context, it is found that parents’ housing expectations on their children is regulated by traditional gender norms – sons are expected to take a leading role in the projects of house-buying and family formation. These gendered housing expectations are further translated into practices and shape how parents interact with sons and daughters differently. Secondly, parents’ homeowning status is found to become a structural advantage in transiting their children to homeownership. Parents’ housing status provides their children with the opportunities to prepare for homeownership preparation at an early age, in both conceptual and practical aspects. I believe this paper sheds light on the reproduction process of social inequality from intergenerational, gender and housing perspectives.

"I Was Not There When He Needed Me": Rural Migrant Careworkers and the Care Drain in Contemporary China
Care drain is a term Arlie Hochschild (2000) coined to refer to situation where caretakers, usually women, in poorer countries migrate to richer countries to take care of children, the elderly and sick people there, leaving their own families untended or short of proper care in a time of increasing global inequality. It is also happening in contemporary China where, with the enlarged regional inequality and the rapid growth of the care industry, a large number of rural women move to cities to take care of urban families. This paper, drawing upon both large-scale survey data and in-depth interviews, explores the dilemma in which rural migrant careworkers are caught, seeking to balance economic and emotional needs of their children and family. It examines strategies migrant women use to combine care as paid work and care as a (gendered) family responsibility, as well as the consequences of care migration for rural families. It also discusses larger social implications of the care drain in contemporary China.

How Can Women Do the "Second Shift” and Remain Employed? Work/life Arrangements of Professional Women With Two Children After the One-child Policy in China
The female labour participation rate (FLPR) in China is one of the highest across the world. The one-child policy has been considered to play an important role in maintaining its high FLPR as it freed women from the burden of childbirth and childcare. With the implementation of the two-child policy, how giving birth to a second child affects women's labour force outcomes? By interviewing 26 professional women with two children in Shanghai, We have unpacked the complexity of different employment status and work/life models under the umbrella of 'stay employed'. We found that all of them spent more time on domestic labour in which their husbands’ involvement was low. We categorise the interviewees to work/life balancers, work/life enchancers, career retreaters and resiliencer. Most of the balancers and enhancers have tenured jobs and received tremendous support in domestic labour, whereas retreaters and resiliencers changed jobs because of perceived work/childcare conflicts. Unlike retreaters, resiliencers experienced career interruption but regained the previous salary level and work/life balance later. The interviewees’ employment was achieved at the cost of their leisure time and through heavy intergenerational support, which may not be sustainable when their parents or in-laws get older or child education takes more of their time and energy. Therefore, the state needs to take the lead in enforcing family-friendly workplaces and promoting paternal involvement in order to reduce gender inequality and prevent further fertility rate decline.

This panel is on Monday - Session 02 - Room 6

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