How will China’s only children care for their aging parents?
A generation of children has now grown
up under China’s one-child policy, which
was enacted in 1979 to limit many Chinese
couples — particularly urban, ethnic-majority ones — to one child each.
The policy was intended to curb
population growth, which it has done.
But now, some in China are beginning to
wonder whether a generation of only
children — sometimes pejoratively called
“little emperors” — will be ready to take
on the challenge of caring for their aging
parents without any siblings to ease the
burden, according to Xiaochen Chen, an
educational psychology graduate student at
the University of California–Los Angeles.
Chen spoke at APA’s 2011 Annual
Convention about her research on Chinese
young adults’ attitudes toward elder care,
as part of a panel discussion on Chinese
adaptations to the one-child policy.
“I was interested in learning about this
because this is my generation,” said Chen.
Traditionally, she said, Chinese culture
has valued filial duty — sons were expected
to care for aging parents, and daughters
to join their husbands’ families and do the
Chen wanted to know what the country’s
younger generation believes now. Do they
expect to care for their parents or to put
them in nursing homes? Do only children
worry more about what will happen when
their parents grow old than people with
In line with traditional values, a study found that today’s generation of Chinese men
and women said they expect to care for their aging parents.
To answer those questions, she analyzed
data from a survey of more than 600 young adults, 41 percent
of whom were only children. The data were collected in six
Chinese cities by Xiaotian Feng, PhD, a professor at Nanjing
University. Chen found that 83 percent of the respondents had
thought about the issue of elder care, but that only children
didn’t seem to worry more about it than people with siblings
personal, both men and women said they expect to care for
their parents. More than half of respondents said that they
would definitely not put their own parents in nursing homes,
and 19 percent said they would probably not do so.
“People still would feel guilty about sending their own
parents to a nursing home,” Chen said.
She also found that traditional values still held strong,
particularly among men. They were less likely than women to
agree that nursing homes are a practical solution for elder care.
When the question moved from the theoretical to the
More research is needed to see what this generation will
really do as their parents age and the theoretical questions
become real, she said. “Attitude is not always an accurate
predictor of behavior.”