Population Research and Policy Review 18: 451–471, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Household extension of the elderly in China, 1987
ROSEMARY S. COONEY
Fordham University, Bronx, New York, USA;
Cendant Corporation, New York, USA
Abstract. Using data from a 1987 elderly survey, this study examines demographic and
socioeconomic characteristics as well as expressed preferences for the patrilineal extended
family as factors affecting coresidence among Chinese elderly. Consistent with expectations,
three quarters of the elderly live with their children and the overwhelming majority of extended
households are with a married son and grandchildren. This study contributes to the literature
on Asian developing nations by illustrating the role of a government supported pension system
in explaining prior perplexing results for urbanization, by documenting the role of preferences
for the patrilineal extended family and by exploring earlier suggestions that factors vary by
marital status. The greater vulnerability of widowed elderly is shown not only by higher rates
of coresidence, but also by interactive effects with economic resources, age and number of
Keywords: Chinese elderly, Extended households, Coresidence
During the past decade scholars and public ofﬁcials in China have increas-
ingly directed attention to a consequence of its dramatic fertility decline –
population aging (Zeng 1989; Wu 1988). While elderly support ratios in most
developing countries are expected to change slowly, China along with the Re-
public of Korea and Singapore are exceptions with relatively large increases
expected between 1990 and 2010 (Kinsella & Taeuber 1993). The number
of elderly (aged 60+) in China grew 27 percent between the 1982 and 1990
censuses with a doubling predicted in 28 years (Tian 1988).
At the core of concern over population aging is the problem of how to
support the rapidly growing elderly population. In the past, the expectation
was that the family would care for the elderly. Yet, the population goal of
fertility reduction, most dramatically illustrated by the one child policy in-
troduced in 1979, directly challenges the patrilineal extended family system
which promotes a cultural preference for large families, especially for sons.
An important responsibility of sons is to remain with the parental household
to care for the older generation. In promoting the one child policy, the Chinese
Revision of paper presented at the 1996 Population Association of America meeting.