Sources of older parents' ambivalent feelings toward their adult children: The case of rural China

Man Guo, Iris Chi, Merril Silverstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Objectives.Relying on the concept of sociological ambivalence, this study investigated the sources of intergenerational ambivalence in rural China, a traditional society that undergoes dramatic demographic, economic, and social changes.Methods. Data were derived from a survey of 1,162 older adults and their 4,396 children in rural Anhui province. Two-level mixed-effects model was carried out to predict ambivalent feelings reported by the older parents toward their adult children.Results. The findings yielded both similar and distinctive predictors of intergenerational ambivalence among the Chinese elderly population compared with their Western counterparts. The Chinese elderly population reported greater ambivalence toward sons than toward daughters. Adult children's higher socioeconomic status, represented by a more prestigious job and an urban household registry status (hukou), was associated with reduced ambivalence among parents. Parents' monetary support to children and assistance with childcare, which is common in rural China due to the massive out-migration, were also associated with higher levels of ambivalent feelings.Discussion. We interpreted the findings in the larger social context of strong son preference, large-scale rural-to-urban migration, and rigid rural-urban division in China due to the household registration system. Our findings demonstrate that individual feelings of ambivalence are culturally structured and are determined within complex social environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-430
Number of pages11
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2013


  • China
  • Family relations
  • Intergenerational ambivalence
  • Local context-
  • Sociological ambivalence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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