10.1 An ethic of independence and diminished filial piety: Chinese widows' support systems in Canada

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 9:00 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Catherine CRAVEN , Sociology , University of British Columbia , Canada
Anne MARTIN-MATTHEWS , Sociology, University of British Columbia, Canada
Carolyn ROSENTHAL , McMaster University , Canada
Lynn MCDONALD , University of Toronto , Canada
The concept of filial piety is often used to frame generational relations and expectations between older adult Chinese parents and their adult children (Chow, 2001). This expectation has been ratified in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China: “children who have come of age have the duty to support and assist their parents” (in Chow, 2001). Research in other countries further suggests that filial piety is upheld among older adult Chinese immigrants and their adult children (Liu et al., 2000). Our purpose is to examine filial piety in the Canadian context, where 10% of the elderly population is Chinese. We examine generational connections in the context of widowhood.

We conducted twenty in-depth interviews with foreign-born Chinese widows living in Toronto, Canada. Participants were recruited through a charitable social services agency, ranged in age from 70 to 88 years (median 79 years), and had lived in Canada an average of 16 years. Interviews were conducted in Mandarin or Cantonese, tape-recorded, transcribed and translated into English. Responses were coded using Lopata’s (1996) categories of support in widowhood (social, financial, service and emotional). We adopt a life course approach examining “widowhood in the context of past and current life experiences and behaviours…” (Chambers, 2000).

While the predominant paradigm suggests high levels of filial piety in Chinese culture, elderly immigrant widows living in Canada describe a much more nuanced situation: adult children fulfill some filial obligations, yet the widows experience high levels of independence, loneliness and aloneness, even though over half of them live with a child. Many actively resist intergenerational dependence and express a desire to not burden their children. The combination of being widowed and in receipt of health and financial support from a welfare state affords these elderly women the opportunity to realize their ethic of independence.