Inequality and Emotion Management in Parental Caregiving By Chinese Daughters

Friday, July 18, 2014: 9:45 AM
Room: 301
Oral Presentation
Patricia O'NEILL , Sociology, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
In the past, normative values in historically Confucian societies strongly demarcated the roles of sons and daughters with regard to the care of elderly parents. Whilst sons were charged with responsibility for parents’ wellbeing, daughters-in-law or daughters carried out the hard work of hands on caregiving.

Today the rigid family hierarchy is undergoing change due to ubiquitous education and professional employment of women. Asian daughters are becoming self-sufficient. Their domination by and dependency on the family has diminished to a great extent. Gender based roles and obligations associated with family membership have nonetheless not abated. Though daughters may now contribute as much as sons to parents’ financial support, culturally sensitized norms suggest caregiving remains within the woman’s purview. And, perhaps surprisingly given their modern lifestyles, daughters continue to be committed to this filial obligation.

Within the framework of Hochschild’s theory of emotion management, this paper explores the emotion work Chinese daughters undertake to justify and sustain their caregiving activities. Specifically, it examines the importance of emotional investment in caregiving and how daughters overcome unhappy feelings related to son favouritism in order discharge kinship responsibilities.

In furtherance of this research, fifty-five Chinese women born between 1946 and 1980 participated in semi-structured, in depth interviews in Hong Kong and Singapore during 2011 and 2012. Findings indicate feelings of affection rather than duty may mediate the quality and length of care daughters are willing to provide to elderly and disabled parents. If feelings of affection are absent or weak, caregiving may be unsustainable and alternative behaviours may be result. The ability to manage emotions, therefore, may not only be critical to the relationship between caregiver and care recipient but determinative of whether care is subcontracted to foreign domestic workers, parents and in-laws are placed in nursing homes, or parents are abandoned or abused.