Aging Parents and Their Caregivers Back Home: The Case of Mainland China

  • SUN, Chih-Yan (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details

Layman's description

China has witnessed large-scale emigration over the past three decades. However, the effects of this emigration on the “left-behind” aging population remain understudied. To date, most research on transnational Chinese families focuses on the reasons why some members of the older generations cannot migrate and reunite with their children abroad, and the ways in which migrant children and their parents back home sustain connections to each other. The issues that aging parents who remain in mainland China encounter, and the ways in which these parents address the care they need in everyday life, are largely unexplored in the literature on transnational families in general and transnational Chinese families in particular.

To fill these lacunae, this proposed research uses the accounts of left-behind aging parents and their caretakers in mainland China (rural and urban areas of Guangdong Province and Beijing) to investigate the impact of transnational family dispersal on the redistribution of elder care. Drawing on qualitative data on aging parents and their caregivers back home, this project seeks to answer three sets of interlocking questions. To begin with, this study looks into the strategies that aging parents who have children living abroad develop to attend to various needs, wants, and desires that arise throughout the course of aging. I will pay particular attention to the myriad ways aging parents activate resources to construct networks of support that fill the “care slots” their children vacate via migration. I will also address the possible roles—or the lack thereof—that migrant children play in facilitating the construction of care networks for their aging parents back home.

Furthermore, this study will delve into the factors that shape the ability of aging Chinese parents back home to negotiate care. I will look specifically at how the intersection of temporal variation (e.g. aging, length of separation, and life transitions), the structure of family (e.g. number of children) and larger stratifying forces (e.g. social class and gender) shapes the ways older parents plan and arrange various types of care.

Finally, this project will demonstrate how aging parents and their caregivers in mainland China negotiate notions of intimacy and reciprocity with each other in a context where (some of) their children are not around. I will chronicle how family dislocation influences the connections between older parents and family members as their primary caregivers in mainland China. I will also compare the experiences of aging parents who depend on family members with those who rely on non-family members (such as paid caregivers). In doing so, this project seeks to advance the scholarly understanding of transnational elder care in China and globally.
Effective start/end date1/01/1731/12/19


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