Intergenerational Childcare Arrangements in Urban China: Negotiations across Gender, Generations, and Socioeconomic Status
As a result of the economic reforms in the 1980s, publicly funded childcare services for children under three have largely disappeared in contemporary China. This thesis focuses on the intergenerational childcare arrangements prevailing in urban China, where dual-earner parents rely on grandparents to provide full-time care for their children. Given grandparental care has been traditionally practiced in China, policymakers and scholars tend to regard it as a readily available solution to the lack of public childcare service. Little is known about how it has changed in response to the dramatic social transformations in the past few decades, and about the potential differences among families adopting such an arrangement.
This study draws on in-depth interviews with paired parents and grandparents who are jointly involved in the care of a child under three. The sample consists of 46 middle-class families from the first-tier city of Guangzhou. Three aspects of the intergenerational arrangements of childcare are investigated: the motivations of parents and grandparents, division of childcare labour, and decision-making related to childcare.
My study confirms there is a strong preference for grandparental care within my sample and that the arrangements and experiences of intergenerational childcare vary considerably across families and are shaped by the interweaving factors of gender, generation and socioeconomic status. There are marked differences in the agency exercised by individual family members regarding their level of involvement and styles and approaches of caregiving. While grandparents’ provision of care is a source of support, it can also give rise to disappointment, ambivalence and tensions.
My study finds that, the prevalence of intergenerational childcare not only reflects the resilience of the cultural tradition of familism, it also exemplifies the shifting gender and intergenerational relationships at a time of rapid social change. While there are signs of progress in gender equality, traditional gender roles remain salient in the daily organisation of care. In addition, the rising status of the younger generation challenges the traditional intergenerational power hierarchy.
Overall, these findings suggest that while grandparents play a fundamental role in supporting their adult children to combine parenthood and paid work, their childcare provision should not be assumed, or regarded as a panacea for the deficit of childcare services in urban China.