International Handbook of Chinese Families

pp 277-287


Social Stratification and Childrearing Values in Contemporary China

  • Xiao HongAffiliated withDivision of Sociology, HSS 05-37, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University Email author 

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Developed primarily from studies undertaken in the market economy, child socialization theory suggests a central link between social class and childrearing values. Middle-class parents value children’s autonomy, whereas working-class parents endorse children’s conformity. A fundamental difference between autonomy and conformity is that while the former facilitates children’s upward social mobility, the latter does not.

In this chapter, I argue that the effects of class on childrearing values differ in the market and the command economies. In the market economy, education and occupation determine largely one’s position in social structure. Better-educated individuals are more likely to move up in the occupational hierarchy and pay scale. In a command economy such as China, the central government controls the allocation of labor and material resources. Government policies as well as market forces determine occupational opportunities and reward structures. In such an economy, redistribution system gives rise to different mechanisms of stratification; occupational mobility and earnings depend as much on educational credentials as on political loyalty.

Drawing data from the World Values Survey, this study examines the relationships among social class, education, occupational autonomy, and the valuation of children’s autonomy and conformity in urban China. Findings suggest that both social class and education shape childrearing values of Chinese parents. However, because of China’s distinctive educational tradition and political system, the role of education in value orientations is smaller, and the class disparities differ from those observed in other countries. Furthermore, occupational autonomy is not a driving force behind urban Chinese valuation of autonomy and conformity in children. These findings suggest that structure of childrearing values, as part of psychological consequences of social stratification, does vary by political economic systems. Sources and implications of the findings are discussed.