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Grandparents Play Role in Chinese Expansion

Elders in rural China care for grandchildren after the parents migrate to urban centers.

October 2, 2006

By Athan Bezaitis
This article was originally published by USC News.

A new USC study has found that older parents living in three-generation households or with grandchildren in skipped-generation households in rural China have a more positive attitude than those living by themselves.

Stronger emotional bonds with children and the availability of remittance from their adult children living in urban centers help to explain the results.

The findings, which are published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Gerontology, suggest that while traditional family dynamics are changing in rural China, the new arrangements of older caretakers fulfill a cultural ideal of tending to kin that has long been maintained. For these grandparents, the value of their contributions and rewards are quite tangible.

“Rural China is experiencing historically unprecedented migration,” said Merril Silverstein, professor in the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “Working-age people get jobs in cities – many of which aren’t pretty – but they pay three to four times more than what they’d get by working the farms.”

China has a population of 1.3 billion people, with approximately 60 percent living in rural areas. An increased population in urban centers helps fuel the nation’s rapid economic expansion.

When working-age adults migrate, leaving the elderly to care for their children, it occupies a culturally sanctioned role within the family and also helps to fuel the Chinese economy.

“By leaving their children behind, migrants can concentrate more on their work,” said Zhen Cong, co-author of the study. “They do not need to pay their children’s daily care and have lower education expenses.”

The data for the study was derived from a 2001 survey of 1,561 parents aged 60 and older living in rural Anhui Province, China. The Population Research Institute of Xi’an Jiaotong University also contributed to the study.