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Title: Changing Work and Family Trajectories – the Experiences of Older Academics/Carers in China according to the Life-course Theory
Authors: Wang, Xueying
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The current situation in China is posing greater challenges to contemporary older workers’ family caring responsibilities (FCR) paired with the limited capability of lone children in providing eldercare. Filial piety is lower than ever before, yet family is still the main source that older people rely on for eldercare in China. The pension and eldercare system resources for older people in China are still limited. In the future, both the state and families may struggle to adequately provide eldercare. However, limited research has been done on life- course of older workers with respect to their family caring responsibilities in China. Although academia has become more balanced with respect to gender, gender inequalities persist in other contexts, likely originating from major challenges of family caring responsibilities. To address the above issues, this research addresses three main questions: 1. What factors have influenced older Chinese academics/carers’ life and career trajectories? 2. How do older Chinese academics/carers navigate major turning points in their life courses? How are the life courses of older Chinese academics/carers linked to the Chinese broader political and socio-economic, organizational, and linked life contexts, as well as human agency? This research employs Life-Course theory (LCT); which has been predominantly applied to understand aging in western contexts. My research specifically combines LCT with the sociological concept of structure and agency, suggesting a new concept of active ageing in this theoretical framework. This research is based on 35 qualitative biographical interviews from the city of Shenyang in China (i.e., 16 male and 18 female university academics above the age of 45). This research contributes to knowledge on eldercare in China, with explanation of the life course of older workers with FCR. Unfortunately, little research has examined the specific life transitions among older adults with FCR. This research addresses this gap by analyzing the opportunities and restrictions derived from the macro socio-economic and political environment for older Chinese workers and how these factors shape their life courses. This research contributes to LCT by characterizing the micro and macro structural life course factors in Chinese culture. From the historical and socio-cultural perspective of LCT, research findings indicate a normative life course for older Chinese academics/carers, at least compared to the individualization of life courses in western cultures. Research findings also highlight an ever-increasing need for independence and a lower capability of adapting to technological development among older Chinese academics/carers. Research on the linked life element of LCT has identified important factors of guanxi, generational gaps, and FCR that all influence the work-life balance (WLB) of older Chinese academics/carers. Research findings indicate that older Chinese academics/carers make compromises to keep guanxi (i.e., personal relationships or social connections) from the workplace, and navigating the complexities of interacting with two generations—their senior parents and single children. This research also highlights two important factors pertaining to FCR that are worthy of future investigation: senior parents who may live at a distance (especially for those staying in rural areas) and that people with a middle/high school education often had the busiest life trajectory of childcare responsibilities. These two factors are considered distinctive cultural mechanisms of Chinese FCR. This research contributes to LCT by characterizing the important turning points and trajectories associated with FCR among older Chinese academics/carers’ life courses. From the transition and trajectory elements of LCT, five major turning points have been identified: 1. Entering higher education and starting a first job; 2. Changing a job/starting second career; 3. Getting married and having a first child; 4. Middle age; and 5. Children moving away. The two trajectories that pertain to highly intensive FCR are the trajectories of having a child of middle/high school age and the trajectory associated with mid-life, which involves significant eldercare responsibility or dual caring responsibilities. This research contributes to active ageing literature in China by investigating lay voices and attitudes of older Chinese academics/carers towards WLB, ageing, extended working lives, and age discrimination. Older Chinese academics/carers tend to prioritise family needs when dealing with WLB, during circumstances of having eldercare responsibilities with severe health condition of senior parents and childcare responsibilities of midlle/high school education. Female older Chinese academics/carers tend to make more sacrifices and experience more WLB pressures than male older Chinese academics/carers. In examinations of agentic orientations of older Chinese academics/carers, they have aimed to extend their working lives in order to comply with the national pension policy and to avoid penalties to their pensions. However, those older Chinese academics/carers tend to hold a negative attitude towards ageing and extended working lives. More significantly, this research has found a different understanding of age discrimination among older Chinese academics/carers compared to those from western cultures
Description: Ph. D. Thesis.
Appears in Collections:Newcastle University Business School

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