What role does family play? The relationship between living arrangements and the well-being of women aged 60 and over in China
In traditional Chinese family life, intergenerational households provided support for older people. Social and cultural changes in the past decades have seen a growing trend towards smaller families and new family structures. Older people living alone or ‘empty nesters’ has become more common. While the relationship between changing living arrangements and the well-being of older people has received considerable scholarly attention, the impact of new family structures on the wellbeing of women aged 60 and over in China has not received sufficient attention. In particular, there is a lack of nationally representative longitudinal research on the impact of the trajectory of change in living arrangements on women aged 60 and over's well-being. This thesis examines the relationship between living arrangements and well-being from the perspective of women aged 60 and over. This study constructs a new multidimensional framework for measuring the well-being of women aged 60 and over in China based on the perspective of the individual older woman, drawing on the concept of social deprivation and the Alkire–Foster counting approach. It uses theories and concepts related to family support and family resource allocation. The study applies data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) and uses fixed effects models and logistic regression models. The study finds that women aged 60 and over in rural areas are more likely than women aged 60 and over in urban areas to experience a decline in the overall level of well-being, which includes the three dimensions of physical, economic and mental well-being, when losing their spouses. Besides, the effect of living with adult children on rural women aged 60 and over’s well-being is negative. For the economic dimension of well-being, when the subjective measure of economic well-being is not considered, the study finds that spouses and adult children have a negative effect on the economic well-being of rural women aged 60 and over, and they have no effect on the economic well-being of urban women aged 60 and over. When the subjective measure of economic well-being is taken into account, it is found that the role of spouses and adult children on economic well-being could also be negative for rural women aged 60 and over, but the opposite is true for urban women. Urban women aged 60 and over living with a spouse and adult children have better economic wellbeing than women in any other living arrangement. These findings suggest, to some extent, that there are urban-rural differences in the impact of family support on women aged 60 and over's well-being. The thesis finds women aged 60 and over in urban areas, often with better social security entitlements, being less dependent on their families than women aged 60 and over in rural areas. The findings also suggest that the role of different types of family members in supporting women aged 60 and over is inconsistent, with the role of spouses likely to be more positive for women aged 60 and over's well-being than that of adult children. Furthermore, these findings also suggests that the pattern of resource allocation within intergenerational households in rural China may not be the “Pooling Model of Household Production”. This is corroborated in the next empirical analysis, where results find that for rural women aged 60 and over living with their spouse only, the higher their contribution ratio to the household within a certain range, the lower their subjective economic perceptions. This suggests that in rural China's older coupled households, the distribution of resources is tied to 'male breadwinner' mentality, and that women aged 60 and over living in wealthy households are not necessarily experiencing better economic well-being. All these findings have important implications for the development of policies related to old age in China.