Family Support vs. Self Support: The Impact of Family Change and the Market Economy on Old-Age Support in Rural China

Lihong Shi, Tulane University

Based on seventeen months of ethnographic study in a rural community in Northeast China, this paper explores the transformation of old-age support from traditional dependence on children, especially sons, to a preparation for self support through purchasing recently marketed old-age security plans promoted by insurance companies in China. According to a survey I conducted with 187 couples in 2007, 56.7 percent (average age 39.5)of my informants have chosen to purchase an old-age security plan. More surprisingly, 62.9 percent of couples who have purchased a plan have a son. I argue that this transformation suggests a decline of family support as a result of the collapse of parental power and the empowerment of women in marriage. Peasants' choice for old-age security plans is also a strategy to cope with the changing family size as a result of China's birth-control policy and a shift of childbearing preference. Furthermore, China's burgeoning market economy has facilitated and hastened this transition.

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Presented in Session 145: The Elderly and their Kin: The Family, the Market and the State