How “Strong” are East Asian Families?

In the traditional East Asian family that we all imagine, we assume the nature of a strong family. We have been exposed to the concept of strong family ties within East Asian societies through learning historical Confucian perspectives. We even subconsciously understand the strength of family ties through our consumption of mass media. This is seen in the popular film Crazy Rich Asians, in which the main character is pressured by his family’s opinions to make a decision about his love life. Our understanding of strong family ties among East Asian families is affirmed everywhere, but what if our understanding is flawed?

 

The Data

More recently, empirical research has been conducted to show that the strong family ties we assumed in East Asian families might not be so strong after all… While East Asian children are typically known to support their parents throughout all phases of life, analysis of empirical evidence proves differently. To measure the strength of strong family ties, we can look at the co-residence of parents with their children because when families face challenges, typically those with stronger family ties are known to pool their resources together and care for one another. Although East Asian parents and grown children value family, due to modern changes, the strength of the family ties is weakening. In more urban areas, there has been significant industrialization, pushing children to explore opportunities beyond simply caring for their parents.

But is this pattern of weakening family ties true across all East Asian families?

In another study, when examining education differentials among single parents, it was found that single mothers with a university education were most likely to co-reside with their parents while less-educated women were more likely to live alone. Essentially, family ties are strong for some groups, but this is not held true for all East Asian families. Also, looking at general trends in living alone and education levels, it was found that widowed women with less than an elementary school education were more likely to live alone than widowed women with a middle school education. In this study, the data shows that not only are East Asian family ties weakening, but the weakening ties disproportionately affect individuals based on their education levels. Overall, more highly educated people are more likely to live with their parents and take part in cohabitation than lower educated individuals.

Why would this be the case? 

Because low-income children tend to bear the costs of family transitions while high-income children benefit from their family’s stability.

 

Today’s Implications

But why does any of this matter? Sure, the family ties are weakening relative to what we think, but what’s wrong with that. 

For most readers understanding the weakening of family ties might simply be just that, but it is imperative to bring this newfound understanding to East Asian governments themselves. Currently, the governments also submit to this misinterpreted perception that when individuals are struggling, other family members simply pool resources together to help out. With this, people are assumed to leave responsibilities to their families as opposed to the state, causing the government to feel no responsibility to help in improving their citizens’ wellbeing.

We need to move past these cultural stereotypes. 

Moving from never having an Asian American female lead in Hollywood to having all Asian cast in Crazy Rich Asians, this is just the start. East Asians are so commonly misrepresented due to portrayals in the mass media, but through research, we see that there is far more to know than what appears to be.

 

References

Rehr, D. (1998). Family Ties in Western Europe: Persistent Contrasts. Population and Development Review, 24(2), 203-234. doi:10.2307/2807972

Hyunjoon Park, Jaesung Choi & Hyejeong Jo (2016) Living Arrangements of Single Parents and Their Children in South Korea, Marriage & Family Review, 52:1-2, 89-105, DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2015.1073653

Park, Hyunjoon, and Jaesung Choi. 2015. “Long-Term Trends in Living Alone among Korean Adults: Age, Gender, and Educational Differences.” Demographic Research 32: 1177-1208.

 

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