Women Negotiating Work and Family Responsibilities in Hong Kong and Britain: Rethinking Modernity, Individualization and Intimacy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:54 PM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Petula Sik-ying HO , Social Work & Social Administration, HKU, HK, China
Stevi JACKSON , Centre for Women's Studies, University of York, York, United Kingdom
Drawing on comparative qualitative research conducted in Hong Kong and Britain, this paper contests western theorists’ ideas on the consequences of modernity for women’s orientations to work and family. Our data derive from life history interviews and focus groups with young women and their mothers in both locations and reveal both similarities and differences in the effects of social change on the two generations. The differences cannot be attributed to the pace or duration of modernization, nor are they wholly consistent with the changes that might be predicted by Gidden’s (1992) ‘transformation of intimacy thesis’ or Beck and Beck Gernsheim’s (2002) individualization thesis. While the Hong Kong women are more committed to family than their British counterparts (cf Chang and Song 2010; Jackson and Ho 2013), in particular in terms of obligations to close kin, they are also far more career oriented. Conversely, the British women seem much more individualistic, sometimes hedonistic, in their personal lifestyle choices, but they are far more willing to sacrifice career to motherhood than those in Hong Kong. Hong Kong women are much more strategic in pursuing economic opportunities, evident especially in pressure on daughters to succeed, in terms of advancing the family as a whole. This is in keeping with the idea of Asian instrumental/utilitarian familialism (Lau 1978; Chang 2003; Chang and Song 2010). Young British women are encouraged by their families to succeed, but this is more often thought of in terms of individual advancement and personal fulfilment. These differences are not only cultural, we argue, but also a result of material conditions of life in each location and the ways in which gender intersects with other inequalities in local contexts, creating differential opportunities and barriers to reconciling family and work under late modern conditions.