Sibling structure, distributive norms, and negotiation for mothers-in-law's assistance in rural South China

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Abstract

Context: Recent studies of parent–adult child relations using a network family approach have paid increasing attention to within-family differences and the role of in-laws in parent–adult child exchanges. However, the effect of sibling structure on the allocation of childcare and household help provided by older women, the negotiation process among in-laws and the underlying principle(s) have been under-examined. Purpose and methods: Based on ethnographic and interview data collected from 28 women in rural South China, this article examines the effect of sibling structure on mothers-in-law's assistance in the context of economic reform, and the role of cultural norms and daughters-in-law in the negotiation process using a family network perspective. Findings: Since the late 1970s, the sibling order of husbands and the presence of their unmarried brothers have negatively affected the bargaining power of young married women and their access to childcare assistance from their mothers-in-law. In terms of household help, sibling size and the equity principle have prevented mothers-in-law in larger extended families from providing assistance during both the pre-reform and reform periods. Although the equity norm is a pivotal moral resource for daughters-in-law in negotiating parental support, other competing norms, particularly parents' obligations to their unmarried adult sons, may set limits on their claims and bargaining power. Implications: Findings demonstrate that the distribution of childcare and household help provided by mothers-in-law are results of intra- and intergenerational negotiation among daughters- and mothers-in-law, rather than simply a dyadic parent–child relationship. Competing norms and daughters-in-law also play important roles in the negotiation for parental help. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-70
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
Volume32
Early online dateJan 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Citation

To, C. W.-c. (2015). Sibling structure, distributive norms, and negotiation for mothers-in-law's assistance in rural South China. Journal of Aging Studies, 32, 59-70.

Keywords

  • Parent–child relations
  • Within-family difference
  • In-laws
  • Sibling
  • Childcare
  • Distributive norms

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