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«Juanwen Yuan Thesis committee Thesis supervisor Prof. dr. A. Niehof Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households Wageningen University Thesis ...»

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2.2.2 Household structure and composition change The HRS led to complex changes in household structure and composition. The rural family is moving away from the traditional family forms and resembles ‘modern’ family patterns found in urban areas and in Western society (Goldstein et al., 1997; Whyte, 1992). The proportion of nuclear households that only consist of parents and (an) unmarried child(ren) increased (Wang, 2003b). The average household size has declined from 4.23 in 1987 to 3.97 in 1990 (Goldstein et al., 1997). Vermeer (2006) notes a substantial reduction in average household size, from 4.4 in 1982 to 3.4 in 2004. At the same time, “Confucian traditions are still strong, and to the extent that they are incorporated into existing government policies, will to some extent countervail modernization trends” (Goldstein et al., 1997: 83).

The stem family household3 remained important. The chance that newly married couples will reside with the husband’s parents had remained stable or A stem family household consists of parent(s) and one married child with his/her family.


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even risen before 1978 but decreased after 1978 (Lavely and Ren, 1992). Young married couples remained in a stem family household until they were able to accumulate sufficient resources to establish their own household (Kertzer, 1991).

The numbers of single person households, stem family households, and complex or joint family households4 were dropping because of rural socio-economic development (ACWF, 1991). However, Cohen (1992) argues that strong and enduring joint families have become associated with successful management of the family as an enterprise, so the joint family household might have the potential to provide important benefits for its members. Inside the household, the power relations are changing as well. For example, in joint families, young people have more power to make decisions than they had before (Lavely and Ren, 1992).

Vermeer (2006: 134), citing Guojia Tongjiju (2005), concludes the following:

“Between 1999 and 2004, the proportion of households with two generations dropped from 62 to 56 percent of all households, and those with three generations from 19 to 17 percent. Single person households (mostly widows) rose from six to eight percent.” The functioning of the household also influences the family structure.

Vermeer (2006) says that since households diversify their income, family ties have loosened. Care for the elderly is usually the rural household’s main concern because there is no governmental security system. As the single child generation matures and becomes responsible for elderly parents, this generation has no siblings to share the burden. Multi-generation households may then again become common. Their proliferation would be consistent with the traditional ideal of an extended family household. Such familial arrangements may seriously impede the mobility of the younger generation and the status of younger women in the household. “The organization of families and households has significant implications for the distribution of income, especially for the relative position of the elderly”, say (Benjamin and Brandt, 1999: 295).

The relationship between economy and family structure is also a point of debate. In classical China, extended families were largely found among middle class farmers, well-to-do farmers, and landlords, but not among poor peasants and farm labourers. These extended families could gain additional income by hiring out labour and had more security because of their flexibility (Wolf, 1966).

According to Huang (1992), collectivization and economic changes have had minimal effects on the extended family. She discusses certain socio-political factors that appear to be relevant to the development of the ideal extended family. Under the relatively stagnant collective system, which one would have expected to be unfavourable to the extended family, the extended family prevailed. When the village economy began to diversify in the early 1980s, a condition obviously conducive to the extended family, the extended family system dissipated. Thus, collectivization had a limited impact on household patterns. Short and Zhai (1996) argue that larger households help to diversify economic activities and use newly emerging opportunities. At the same time, household splitting is increasing, with households becoming smaller as a result. Disagreements about household resources allocation is one factor which influences household division (Wang, 2000).

A complex or joint family household includes at least two families.


–  –  –

Household headship5 is changing. According to Goldstein et al. (1997) headship patterns change because men are more likely to be migrants than women, leading to more female household heads. Even in rural areas, among more educated couples some women remained head of the household even after their spouse returned. According to IFAD (1995: 26), migration leaves more de facto female-headed households. Female heads of household often suffer from the disadvantage of being relatively poor and having a workload heavier than that of men. Including single, divorced, widowed, and deserted women, the percentage in China is an estimated 13 percent.

2.2.3 Household livelihood change and differentiation Household changes lead to changes in livelihood strategies. The livelihood portfolio becomes diversified to include, besides farming, both off-farming and non-farming activities. Agricultural production may become a sideline activity and income from agricultural production is decreasing. For rural households, agricultural production is a form of household security. Land is of central importance, in spite of the limited profitability of the small pieces of land per household, because of the role of land as a provider of security. Sometimes, in fact, the household cannot benefit from agriculture at all and has to find inputs from off-farm income. IFAD (1995) found that the average household land holding was

11.5 mu (0.74 hectare) in 1988. Mallee (1997) states that plots that are larger than the village average do have a positive (if small) effect on household incomes. Yet, households with more migrants usually are better off than households that rely only on their contracted land for their livelihoods. Therefore, landlessness does not necessarily equal chronic poverty (Murphy, 2000b).

Household landholding is changing as well, the reasons including household splitting, land transfers, and abandonment. Landholdings will have to be consolidated, or valuable land will lie fallow because of migration (Goldstein, 1988;

Davis and Harrell, 1993). Benjamin and Brandt (1999: 294) think that “transferring land from richer households that are more actively engaged in off-farm work to households with few off- farm opportunities could improve both efficiency and equity.” After the implementation of the HRS and the opening of markets in the early 1980s, the farmers were no longer a homogeneous group; some got richer more quickly than others (Song, 1998; Zhou, 2002). The differentiating factors can be income, political power, and social status. The Gini6 index in rural areas increased from 0.21 in 1978 to 0.32 in 1994 (Hu, 2005). Occupational differentiation is not very visible because some off-farm villagers who work elsewhere still keep their rural identity and hold land use rights (Zhou, 2002). Villagers usually have no other skills than those relating to agricultural production (Zhang, 2005). Yan (1992) states that local village leaders lost their authority and power after the HRS was Household headship indicates the person who manages and makes decisions in the 5

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introduced, while some ordinary farmers became better-off, both economically and socially. Hence, current rural social stratification is characterized by both bureaucratic and economic ranking. The composition of rich households looks rather like a mixture of capable individuals from all social groups. To some extent, differentiation is good for development, but a high differentiation may lead to social problems. Inequality is increasing at both the regional level and local level.

The farmers’ income disparity increases among different regions in China. The income of households in Guizhou was almost half of that in Beijing in 1978, but was equal to one third of that in Beijing in 2002 (Feng, 2004). Fan (2003) also states that economic goals were the top priority during the transitional period and the farming households were left almost completely to take responsibility for their own survival, which increased their vulnerability. There are many factors that

influence economic differentiation:

Assets and resources. The economic position of a household is determined not only by its current income, but also by accumulated family assets (Yan, 1992). Men and women born more recently have had significantly more education. The elderly tend to become the poorest because of their relatively low education (Benjamin and Brandt, 1999). Families relying on an increasing proportion of off-farm wages for their livelihood could obtain a better economic status and secure their position through strategic intermarriage (Christiansen, 1990).

Household structure, composition, and available labour. Households with more available labour can allocate part of their labour to off-farm and non-farm incomeearning activities. Christiansen (1990) states that the families’ economic success depends on their internal structures and available labour opportunities. More migrants will strengthen the family income (Murphy, 2000). Non-farm employment returns are major determinants of income inequality (Benjamin and Brandt, 1999).

The social network. Subsistence farming households seem to be caught in a vicious circle of relative impoverishment because they are unable to establish useful social connections (guanxi) through marriage, and – as a consequence – are in a subordinate position that is difficult to change. Christiansen (1990) also states that a household’s income depends on its relative status within the community.

2.2.4 Change related to gender roles Since more villagers migrate to earn cash to supplement the household income, the members left behind are mostly the aged, women and children. The women have to take on most of the agricultural production activities, besides their traditional household chores. At the same time, women’s entitlement to land is problematic.

At the beginning, the land was evenly distributed among all members of the farming household. Now, both household membership and size are changing and the number of households is increasing, because large households are divided into small nuclear households. Accordingly, the land has to be divided into smaller plots per household. When household members move out, the per capita land in that household increases. Because the land cannot be redistributed and only men 13 Historical and social context can inherit from their parents, newly married women have no chance of obtaining land.

The implementation of the HRS and the shift from commune- to householdbased farming, with increasing numbers of men seeking employment away from the farm and leaving agricultural tasks to their wives, resulted in the feminization of agriculture. Zuo (2004:510) refers to this as “one of the most remarkable changes in the Chinese market transition”. According to IFAD (1995) the HRS, in combination with the 1985 reforms in pricing and marketing of agricultural and rural products, has had a significant impact on rural women. Through the diversification of occupational opportunities, extending from crop planting to livestock raising, specialized production, knitting, weaving, non-farm enterprise development, et cetera, women's participation in this development has widened.

More women became engaged in income-generating activities after the reform, and women’s role as major producers and income earners has been increasing (Guan, 1987). In more industrialized areas, the majority of rural women consider remunerated work as a main occupation for women to improve their living standard and win genuine equality. In underdeveloped rural areas, women allow their husbands to concentrate on paid work and leave the housework to them (ACWF, 1991). Christiansen (1990: 110) mentions that, in theory, women have the potential to become the main earners of a family, which would improve their status. However, in practice, this potential is hardly realized. The husbands pursue migrant work and the wives stay in the village, which does not improve women’s position in the countryside when their engagement in agriculture does not generate much economic value beyond the subsistence level (Chen, 1996; Fan, 2003; Zuo, 2004).

Guan (1987) points to the changes in women’s status in the family; the change of rural women’s status in society; and the ideological change among rural women themselves after the implementation of the HRS. The younger generation has more education, but according to the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF, (1991: 183), the trend of schooling for young women is declining. The reasons are that the adults are busy and ask the young girls to help with the housework. They expect children, especially daughters, to engage in income-generating activities.

The parents think that work on the farm and in the enterprise is mainly done by hand, and does not need many skills.

According to IFAD (1995), rural men put in longer hours in market work, while women do so in non-market work. At the same time, however, economic opportunities are increasing, also for women. “Diversification in agriculture has opened up new opportunities, as has the fact that more and more rural women are engaging in non-agricultural work, a diversification that also broadens the scope for off-farm enterprises. Increased access to and control over land, increased access to education and technical training, policies and practices that grant equality to women and the growing recognition among both men and women, especially the younger generations, of the vital productive role women do and can play are but some of the forces at work” (IFAD, 1995:40).

Although some reports (ACWF, 1991; IFAD, 1995) observe that, at least at that time, young husbands were doing more housework than in the past, Vermeer (2006) argues that some traits of the traditional family were revived, too,

14 Chapter 2

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