China has unique traditional family values, especially strong in the rural areas. The deep-rooted Confucian “filial piety,” characterized by money and time transfers from children to their parents and the co-residence of multiple generations, has effectively helped sustain an informal old-age security.
The traditional foundation of old-age support is changing today for several reasons. First, economic shifts involving smaller household sizes, greater mobility of the population, and perhaps weakening of ties of kin outside the household are potentially undermining this tradition, making it increasingly difficult for older Chinese to receive support from their adult children. Thus, it is important at this stage to understand the patterns of intergenerational transfers among Chinese families and evaluate to what extent intergenerational transfers still function as a part of elderly support. Second, despite the existence of “filial piety,” other Chinese traditional norms may also linger and influence family transfer behaviors. For instance, there is a shared ideal of family continuity through the male line in which the females are considered inferior to the males, so parents tend to favor sons, reflected in the inequitable distribution of transfers (Lee et al., 1994). Therefore, we also try to investigate the correlates of intergenerational transfers, with a hope to better understand the driving forces behind transfer behaviors between elderly parents and their adult children.
In this chapter, we examine incidence and net amount of transfers and their correlations with parental demographics, socioeconomic status (SES), and health status, as well as children’s demographics and SES. The main findings include (1) contrary to the situations in most developed countries, transfers are predominantly from children to elderly parents, and are large in magnitude compared with parental pre-transfer income; (2) older people with a larger number of offspring tend to receive more transfers; those residing with other children are less likely to receive transfers from their nonco-resident children; (3) the relationship between parental pre-transfer income and transfers is mixed, depending on the income level of the parents; (4) married children are more able to provide transfers; (5) educated children transfer more frequently and a larger net amount; and (6) oldest sons are less likely to provide transfers.
Our findings reveal that given the insufficient pension system and social safety nets in today’s China, children remain the major source of elderly support, implying the traditional social norms still play an important role. The incidence and amount of transfers are responsive to parents’ income levels, and affected by the socioeconomic status of children. As China is growing quickly and approaching a graying society, we expect adult children will continue to shoulder the most responsibility for elder support.