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Complex Modernization: The Value of Children and Social Transformation in Contemporary Vietnam

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Abstract

The value of children has emerged as an important lens in understanding social changes and individual decision-making concerning childbearing and childrearing. The current study illustrates the usefulness of this lens in the context of contemporary Vietnam, based on a national representative survey dataset. We develop a theoretical framework incorporating three sets of structural factors (cohort, South or North, family SES) plus demographic factors to understand the valuation of children and its fertility implications. We reveal the following findings. First, we document a generally higher emotional value than instrumental value among Vietnamese respondents across cohorts. Moreover, the post-reform birth cohort reports both lower emotional and lower instrumental value of children; and the Southern sample on average holds higher emotional and higher instrumental values of children than the Northern sample. Second, in regression analysis, the emotional value of children shows little variation and the proposed factors explain a lower proportion of its variation, but we capture a strong cohort effect, regional divide and social class effect on the instrumental value of children. Last, while there exists a negative association between emotional valuation of children and respondents’ fertility, and a positive association between instrumental valuation of children and respondents’ fertility, such effects have been reduced to non-significant levels once independent variables (birth cohort, region, and family SES) are controlled. This study challenges and complicates the dominant discourse in existing literature on the rise of the “emotionally valuable” and “economically and instrumentally useless” child in modern societies. We instead reveal that respondents’ value orientations and their impact on fertility trends should be contextualized in Vietnam’s historical and political trajectory of ‘complex modernization’.

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Acknowledgements

This work is supported by Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences in the study on “Family Values in Contemporary Vietnam”, code KHXH-GĐ/16-19/10; and the National Foundation for Science and Technology Development (NAFOSTED) in the study on “Divorce in the Southwest: situation, socio-structural causes and consequences”, code 504.05-2016.04. These two studies are led by Assoc. Prof. Tran Thi Minh Thi, the first author.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 6 A comparison between the sample distribution and the national statistics on keys variables (unit: percent)

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Thi, T.T.M., Xiaorong, G. & Dong, N.H. Complex Modernization: The Value of Children and Social Transformation in Contemporary Vietnam. Child Ind Res 14, 511–536 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-020-09791-z

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