Ageing International

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 366–393 | Cite as

Ethnography of Eldercare by Elders in Shanghai, China

Article

Abstract

While existing media and policy discourse on aging and caregiving in China is dominated by attention to the burden of elder dependency, this article provides an ethnographic glimpse of the under-recognized role of older adults in providing informal care to the elderly in Chinese society today. The analysis is based on a quantitative survey and ethnographic fieldwork involving participant observation and interviews conducted in a residential area of Shanghai Municipality, the Chinese city with the highest degree of population aging in the nation. Conducted between 2010 and 2014, our research examined whether and how older adults in Shanghai can be considered as not just persons in need of care but also as active contributors of eldercare. While we observed senior aid to the aged occurring both within and outside family households in Shanghai, in this article we focus on elder caregiving within the context of the family, with particular attention to caregiving provided by elders’ spouses. Overall, we found that patterns of eldercare in Shanghai today are much more complex than public discourses dominated by the elder dependency concept might lead one to believe. Our study found that many older adult women and men in Shanghai are making significant contributions to eldercare in the form of both spousal mutual aid and spousal primary caregiving. We further found several ways in which the identification of a primary caregiver can be quite complicated in a methodological sense, whether in quantitative or qualitative research. We conclude that more careful scholarly and policy attention to older adults’ contributions is needed to better understand and address the challenges and potentials of China’s aging society.

Keywords

China Eldercare Productive ageing Ethnography 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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