Ge Lin

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Regional Research Institute

Document Number

Working Paper #2001-16


Regional Research Institute


This article examines the degree to which the traditional family support system would be reshaped by the modernization and industrialization from a geo-developmental perspective. In particular, we examine the impact of rapid social changes and economic developments on family support for older parents in contemporary urban China to assess trends that might lead to a different path from the western style of old-age support purported by modernization theory. Based on the 1992 Survey on China’s Support Systems for the Elderly, the study divides the sample from three levels of economic development, which in turn, are used as proxies for developmental trends. It finds that intergenerational support in urban China is persistent as far as instrumental support is concerned, and the level of support follows a U-shaped pattern along the level of economic development. It is the mid-developed urban areas that intergenerational support seems the weakest. If the pattern from less-developed to developed-urban areas reflect a developmental path, then the trajectory seems to correspond to our expectations. The beginning and developed stage represent a transitional period during which rapid urbanization processes and greater geographic separation between parents and adult children often leads to weakened intergenerational support for the elderly. The study concludes that although the old age support system, on the whole, in China will diverge from the path of the West, some aspects of economic support to the elderly will likely be consistent with modernization theory.