Will Confucian Values Help or Hinder the Crisis of Elder Care in Modern Singapore?


The unique mix of modern Western and traditional Confucian values in Singapore presents young people with contradictory views on duties to aging parents. It remains to be seen whether the changing demands of modern life will result in new generations giving up Confucian family ethics or whether the Confucian dynamic will find a way to adapt to the new pressures. It is the opinion of this author that the Confucian family structure has mixed potential for the growing crisis of elder care. Alone, both Confucian traditions and typical Western institutional approaches toward elder care fall short of what is necessary for intergenerational social justice, yet a hybrid of the two has great potential for the growing aging crisis. To demonstrate this, I first give a brief account of the history of filial piety in Confucianism as well as the social environment from which it originated. Then I turn my attention to the present issues of an aging population and elder care that face much of the developed world in the twenty-first century. Finally, I show how adherence to Confucian filial traditions can both help to address many of these issues and how it can potentially leave unjust gaps in elder care. Ultimately, I conclude that the crisis of elder care may be best dealt with through a hybrid of Confucian values and Western approaches.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Beauchamp, Tom L., and James F. Childress. 2019. Principles of biomedical ethics. Oxford University Press.

  2. Bernoth, Maree, Elaine Dietsch, Oliver Kisalay Burmeister, and Michael Schwartz. 2014. Information management in aged care: Cases of confidentiality and elder abuse. Journal of Business Ethics 122 (3): 453–460. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1770-7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bookman, Ann, and Delia Kimbrel. 2011. Families and Elder Care in the Twenty-First Century. Future of Children 21 (2): 117–140. https://doi.org/10.1353/foc.2011.0018.

  4. Canda, Edward R. 2013. Filial piety and care for elders: A contested Confucian virtue reexamined. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work. 22 (3–4): 213–234. https://doi.org/10.1080/15313204.2013.843134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Chan, Ho Mun, and Sam Pang. 2007. Long-term care: Dignity, autonomy, family integrity, and social sustainability: The Hong Kong experience. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 32 (5): 401–424. https://doi.org/10.1080/03605310701631661.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Engelhardt, H. Tristram Jr. 2007. Long-term care: The family, post-modernity, and conflicting moral life-worlds. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 32 (5): 519–536. https://doi.org/10.1080/03605310701626430.

  7. Engelman, Michal, and Summer Johnson. 2007. Population Aging and International Development: Addressing Competing Claims of Distributive Justice. Developing World Bioethics 7 (1): 8–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-8847.2006.00152.x.

  8. Fan, Ruiping. 2006. Confucian filial piety and long term care for aged parents. HEC Forum 18 (1): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10730-006-7984-7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Fan, Ruiping. 2007. Which care? Whose responsibility? And why family? A Confucian account of long-term care for the elderly. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 32 (5): 495–517. https://doi.org/10.1080/03605310701626331.

  10. Fan, Ruiping. 2012. Confucian reflective equilibrium: Why principlism is misleading for Chinese bioethical decision-making. Asian Bioethics Review 4 (1): 4–13.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Guo, Qiyong. 2007. Filial piety: The root of morality or the source of corruption? Dao 6 (1): 21–37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-007-9001-5.

  12. Herr, Ranjoo S. 2016. Confucian mothering: The origin of Tiger mothering? In Feminist Encounters with Confucius, edited by Mathew Foust and Sor-Hoon Tan, 40–68. Boston, MA: Brill.

  13. Huang, Shirlena, Brenda S.A. Yeoh, and Mika Toyota. 2012. Caring for the elderly: the embodied labour of migrant care workers in Singapore. Global Networks 12 (2): 195–215. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0374.2012.00347.x.

  14. Katz, Sidney. 1983. Assessing self-maintenance: Activities of daily living, mobility, and instrumental activities of daily living. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 31 (12): 721–727. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.1983.tb03391.x.

  15. Koh, Steffi. 2016. 8 things you should know about Singapore’s wealth gap. Channel News Asia, 5 December 2016. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/8-things-you-should-know-about-singapore-s-wealth-gap-7643944.

  16. Lee, Li Way. 2011. International Justice in Elder Care: The Long Run. Public Health Ethics 4 (3): 292–296. https://doi.org/10.1093/phe/phr026.

  17. Li, Chenyang. 2008. When my grandfather stole persimmons… reflections on Confucian filial love. Dao 7 (2): 135–139. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-008-9059-8.

  18. Lim, Meng-Kin. 2012. Values and health care: The Confucian dimension in health care reform. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 37 (6): 545–555. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmp/jhs048.

  19. Loy, Hui-chieh. 2014. Classical Confucianism as virtue ethics. In The Handbook of Virtue Ethics, ed. Stan van Hooft, 285–293. New York, NY: Routledge.

  20. Ng, Tze Pin, Birit F.P. Broekman, Matthew Niti, Xinyi Gwee, and Ee Heok Kua. 2009. Determinants of Successful Aging Using a Multidimensional Definition Among Chinese Elderly in Singapore. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 17 (5): 407–416. https://doi.org/10.1097/JGP.0b013e31819a808e.

  21. Nuyen, Anh Tuan. 2010. Confucian trust and the biomedical regulatory framework in Singapore. In Bioethics in Singapore: The ethical microcosm, edited by John W. Elliot, Calvin W.L. Ho, and Sylvia S.N. Lim. Singapore: World Scientific.

  22. Phillips, David R., and Helen P. Bartlett. 1995. Aging trends-Singapore. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 10 (4): 349–356. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00972334.

  23. Sung, Kyu-Taik. 1998. An exploration of actions of filial piety. Journal of Aging Studies 12 (4): 369–386. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0890-4065(98)90025-1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Teo, Peggy. 1996. Aging in Singapore. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 11: 269–286. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00122705.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Thomas, Elwyn. 1990. Filial piety, social change and Singapore youth. Journal of Moral Education 19 (3): 192–205. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305724900190305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Tsai, Daniel F.C. 2005. The bioethical principles and Confucius’ moral philosophy. Journal of Medical Ethics 31 (3): 159–163. https://doi.org/10.1136/jme.2002.002113.

  27. Tsai, Daniet F.C. 2010. Reflecting on the nature of Confucian ethics. American Journal of Bioethics 10 (4): 84–86. https://doi.org/10.1080/15265161003686498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Wee, L.W. 2011. International justice in elder care: The long run. Public Health Ethics 4 (3): 292–296.

  29. Yan, Hektor K.T. 2017. Is filial piety a virtue? A reading of the Xiao Jing from the perspective of ideology critique. Educational Philosophy and Theory 49 (12): 1184–1194. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1339343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Yang, Soon-ja. 2017. The reconciliation of filial piety and political authority in early China. Dao 16 (2): 187–203. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-017-9546-x.

  31. Yeh, Kuang-Hui, Chin-Chun Yi, Wei-Chun Tsao, and Po-San Wan. 2013. Filial piety in contemporary Chinese societies: A comparative study of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. International Sociology 28 (3): 277–296. https://doi.org/10.1177/0268580913484345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Yeoh, Brenda S.A., and Shirlena Huang. 2010. Foreign Domestic Workers and Home-Based Care for Elders in Singapore. Journal of Aging & Social Policy 22 (1): 69–88. https://doi.org/10.1080/08959420903385635.

  33. Zhai, Xiaomei, and Ren Zong Qiu. 2007. Perceptions of long-term care, autonomy, and dignity, by residents, family and caregivers: The Beijing experience. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 32 (5): 425–445. https://doi.org/10.1080/03605310701631695.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Zola, Charles. 2001. Geriatric filial piety. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 15 (2): 185–203. https://doi.org/10.5840/ijap20011528.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kathryn Muyskens.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Muyskens, K. Will Confucian Values Help or Hinder the Crisis of Elder Care in Modern Singapore?. ABR 12, 117–134 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41649-020-00123-5

Download citation


  • Filial piety
  • Elder care
  • Singapore
  • Social justice