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Leaving the Parental Home: Chinese Culture in an Urban Context

Author(s): Kwok-fai Ting and Stephen W. K. Chiu

Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 2002), pp. 614-626
Published by: National Council on Family Relations
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3599929
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Journal of Marriage and Family.

The ChineseUniversityof Hong Kong

Leavingthe ParentalHome:ChineseCulture
in an UrbanContext

Leavingthe parentalhome is increasinglytreated resents a significantstep in creatinga coherent

as an essential stepping-stonetowardadulthood sense of self that is separatedfrom the parents
in the modernworld.The authorsargue that this (Anderson& Sabatelli,1999). Throughestablish-
is a culturalprocess regulatedby social norms ing theirown residence,home leaversgain inde-
and institutionalsettings that varyfrom place to pendencein financial,functional,and emotional
place. Hong Kongprovidesan excellentscenario terms. By distancingthemselvesfrom their par-
in which Chinese traditionscoexist with rapid ents, both spatiallyand mentally,they are able to
economic development.Rather than looking at expandtheir social life beyondthe family circle.
leaving the parental home as a developmental However,leaving home is not a naturalprocess.
process, Chinesetraditiontendsto linkit withfil- It involves a conscious negotiationof a new re-
ial obligationsand genderstatus.On the basis of lationshipwith parentson an adult-to-adult basis,
life historydata collected in Hong Kong, the au- and the creationof a balancebetweenone's own
thors establish that leaving home has neither
preferencesand parentalinterests.
gained substantial popularity nor become a Although privacy and autonomy are highly
uniquelife stage among Chinese;it continuesto cherished modern values among young adults,
be closely associatedwith the marriagetransition
leaving home does not follow a simple logic of
and practical considerationssuch as housing, individualismpropelledby modernization.As re-
childcare needs, and the availabilityof elderly
care. cently reportedin Newsweek(Power,2000), con-
trary to the Americanexperience, more young
Italianmen arechoosingto stay with theirparents
Modernfamily life is increasinglydifferentiated in a phenomenonknownas mammismo(or mam-
by distinct stages that have either been recently ma's boy syndrome).Besides high ratesof youth
createdor graduallyredefinedwith new expecta- unemploymentand expensiverents,the cohesive
tions (Aries, 1962; Kett, 1983; Skolnick, 1991). family has been a strong culturalforce keeping
Leavingthe parentalhome is one such event that young Italiansat home.Unless thereareabsolute-
marks the transitionbetween adolescence and ly no other choices, leaving home to work or
youngadulthood(White,1994).Forthoseholding study is not as commonlyacceptedby Italiansas
a developmentalperspective,leaving home rep- it is by Americans.Indeed, there are important
culturalandstructuralvariationsin the homeleav-
Departmentof Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong ing process. Because of differencesin education
Kong, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong (kfting@cuhk.edu.hk).
systems and employmentopportunities,Ameri-
Key Words:adulthoodtransition,Chinesefamily,familism, cans tend to leave home earlierthan Australians
leaving parental home. and Britons (Kerckhoff& Macrae, 1992). Even

614 Journalof Marriageand Family64 (August2002): 614-626

Leaving Home in Urban Hong Kong 615

for Asian Americanswho sharestrongfamilyval- consideredindividualismselfish and denied it as

ues, the inclinationto live with parents varies a necessary part of adulthood.Collectivismfur-
among Japanese,Chinese, Filipinos, Korean,In- ther found its expressionin the culturalideal of
dians, and Vietnamese(Kanjanapan,1989). multigenerationcoresidence, which symbolized
From a comparativepoint of view, leaving family prosperity.As family memberswere en-
home is not merelya growing-upprocessbecause couraged to live under the same roof, leaving
it is regulatedby social norms and institutional home was conspicuouslyomittedfrom the grow-
settingsthatdiffer fromplace to place. So far,lit-ing up process.
tle attentionhas been paid to the home-leaving Familyharmonyis anothercornerstoneof Chi-
process beyond the Americanand Europeanex- nese familism.To maintainsolidaritywithinfam-
periences.Asia's push for rapideconomic devel- ily, individualsmust submitthemselvesto family
opmentcontrastssharplywith its lingeringcultur- goals andbehaveaccordingto theirstatusandrole
al traditions(Tu, 1996). Hong Kong is a case in in family.The father,accordingto patriarchal tra-
point.In less thanhalf a century,Hong Konghas dition, was the centralfigurewith superiorstatus.
successfully transformed itself from a small By controllingthe family assets he commanded
entrepotinto a regional financialhub. Tom be- absoluteauthorityover his wife andchildren.Chi-
tween modernideology and traditionalfamilism, nese culturebestoweduponhim andhis wife great
young adults struggleto balance personalspace responsibilityandauthorityto supervisetheirchil-
and family obligations(Chan,Ho, & Tam, 1997; dren'sbehaviorand personallife, fromfriendship
Salaff, 1981). Using life history data from Hong circles to spouse selection.Youngadultsfoundit
Kong Chinese,this study examinesthe extent to extremelydifficult,if not impossible,to move out
which leaving the parentalhome has become a of the family home withoutparentalconsent. In
unique life stage, and analyzes how traditional addition,Chinese placed a high value on chil-
values are being modifiedin a highly urbanized dren'smoralresponsibilityfor takingcare of el-
context. derly parents,and physicalattendanceto parental
needs was a bare minimumto fulfill such duties.
CHINESEFAMILISM IN URBANHONGKONG Thus, leaving the parentalhome was inexorably
linked to the ideation of filial piety ratherthan
AlthoughHong Kong was underBritishrule for personaldevelopment.
morethana century(1842-1997), Chinesevalues, As Chinesefamilismdevelopedalongthe male
andtheiremphasison familism,maintaina strong lineage, therewas a significantgenderdifference
hold on the mindsof its 6.7 millionresidents.The in the culturalmeanings that were attachedto
significanceof familism goes far beyond kinship leaving home. Sons, as heirs to the family prop-
relationswithin Chinese family: more important, erty, were traditionallyexpectedto live with their
it formsthe core of cosmic orderand the basis of parentsuntil the parentspassed away.The oldest
how social and politicallives are organized(Lau, son, in particular,shoulderedgreat responsibility
1982). for his family and his parents.Yet, sibling order
was a relativelyminorfactor when comparedto
ChineseFamilism gender differences. Traditionally,moral codes
tendedto be more elaboratefor women than for
The principalcharacterof Chinesefamilismis its men. As parentswere held responsiblefor the
emphasis on collective family welfare. Because moralqualitiesof unmarrieddaughters,they com-
the Chinese traditionallyemphasizedthe impor- monly exercised stringent control over their
tance of blood ties, the concept of family often daughters'lives. Thus,living awayfromhomebe-
extended to include a much wider kinship net- fore marriagewas far less acceptablefor daugh-
work, and people were held accountablenot only ters than for sons. However, daughtershad to
to themselves and their intermediate family, but move out of the parentalhome upon marriage,as
also to the whole familial group.The burdenof they were consideredoutsidersafter takingtheir
familialresponsibilitywas enormousat times,and husband's family name-the symbolic act of
this pressuredparentsto preparetheirchildrento transferringfamily obligationsand loyalty.Thus,
consider family interestsat young ages through leaving the parentalhome as a necessarypartof
stringentdiscipline. Contraryto the situationin the marriageritualhas been a commonlife course
the West, whereindividualismis a cherishedele- transitionamongChinesewomen,butit has never
mentin personaldevelopment,traditionalChinese been an independentstep towardadulthood.
616 Journal of Marriage and Family

Chinese Familism in Hong Kong mentsclearlyindicatea new emphasison personal

space and boundaries.What remainsunclear is
Althoughthe full packageof traditionalfamilism whetherleaving home before marriage,particu-
seems passe in the urbancontext, practicesthat larlyfor daughters,is equallyfeasibleandsocially
emphasizecollectiveinterests,parentalpower,fil- acceptable.
ial piety, and male lineage surviveto variousde- Althoughthe values of privacy and personal
grees in Hong Kong (Chan et al., 1997; Hong, freedom,which are both importantto urbanism,
1973; Lee, 1991;Podmore& Chaney,1974; Sal- have been on the rise among young adults, it
aff, 1981; Stoodley, 1967). Studiesconductedin wouldbe a gross exaggerationto suggestthattra-
the 1960s and 1970s suggestedthatparentalcon- ditionalChinesefamilismhas lost its influencein
trolover children'sactivitieswas commonandex-
Hong Kong. The nexus between traditionalism
tensive-ranging fromoccupationalchoicesto en- and urbanlife is complex.A majorityof Chinese
gagement decisions (Hong, 1973; Podmore & continueto believe thattakingcareof elderlypar-
Chaney, 1973; Salaff, 1981). Indeed, parental ents is a family obligation(Chanet al., 1997;The
power was found to be strongerin Hong Kong Hong Kong Federationof YouthGroups,1999).
thanin the UnitedStates,the Philippines,andJa- Indeed,Chinesefamilismhas transformed itself as
pan (Podmore& Chaney, 1973). Findings also the economy has advanced.King (1996) has ob-
confirmedthat parentalcontrol was stricterfor served that traditionalismin Hong Kong was
daughtersthanfor sons. Consistentwith the sub- highly rationalisticin nature,as traditionalprac-
missive role of women,Salaff showedthatyoung tices were selectively adoptedto serve pragmatic
workingdaughterswillingly handedover most of goals. For instance,as Salaff (1981) has suggest-
theirwages to theirparentsand put family needs ed, althoughthe traditionalemphasison women's
before their personalinterests.Despite their sig- virtue put daughtersunderstringentparentalsu-
nificantcontributionto the familyeconomy,these
pervision,parentshad strongeconomicmotivesto
young womenfoundit difficultto justifytheirde- keep workingdaughtersat home to secure their
sires to move out of the parentalhome for better income contribution.Lau (1981) has also sug-
living conditionsand greaterpersonalspace. As gested that inadequateinstitutionalsupportled to
Salaff concluded,parentalauthoritywas surpris- the primacyof family as the basis for accommo-
ingly robustin the rapidindustrializationof Hong datingpersonalneeds. The lack of a comprehen-
Kong. sive social securitysystem, for instance,offered
In the 1980s and 1990s, therewere clear signs
elderly parentsno other choice but to live with
of tensionbetweentraditionalfamilismandrapid theirmarriedchildren(Kwan,1995).Manywork-
social change. Some researchersbegan to raise ing couples also chose to live with parentsto ob-
concerns about the withering of social status tain reliable care for their otherwiseunattended
among the older family members,on the pre- children. Other than a simple play of cultural
sumptionthat old people no longer commanded codes, multigenerationcoresidenceserves many
respectin the family and were consideredworth- practicalpurposes.
less in a society moving in the fast lane (Chow, This pragmaticturn in familism means that
1987; Kwan, 1995). Indeed,fewer parentsin the Hong Kong Chinesehave become less dogmatic
early 1990s believed that their children would in the highly regardedpractice of filial piety,
providethe same kind of securityand prosperity which offers them sufficient flexibility to deal
as they had done for their own parents(Shek, with the new realitiesof a fast-changingsociety.
1996). These concernssuggest the weakeningof Althoughchildrenare obligedto takecareof and
parentalpower in the personal lives of young providefor theirparents,therehas beenless social
adults. Althoughmany parentsstill expected to pressureto live with them. Leaving the parental
live with theirmarriedsons in the 1970s (Salaff, home is a decision that dependson whetherpar-
1981), as many as 62% of the respondentsin a ents can take care of themselvesand whetherar-
1988 surveyendorsedthe view thatnewlymarried rangementsfor care of the elderly, in terms of
couples shouldlive away fromtheirparents(Lee, finance and personal attention, can be made
1991). Followingwomen'spatternsof residential amongsiblings.The traditionalgenderdivisionin
movement,manymoreyoung men left the paren- caringfor elderlyparentshas also diminished.Not
tal home upon marriageas their incomes im- only have marrieddaughtersbeen actively in-
provedsteadilyover the prosperousdecadesof the volved in takingcare of theirelderlyparents,but
1980s and 1990s. Changesin residentialarrange- some have actuallybrokenthe patrilocalrule by
Leaving Home in Urban Hong Kong 617

having their husbands move into the parental METHOD

home.Accordingto 1983 statisticson the addition
of children'sspousesin publichousing,17%were Sample
sons-in-law(Lee, 1987). Althoughmatrilocalliv-
ing arrangementsare far from a regularpractice The data in this study came from the Social
in Hong Kong, the magnitudeof changeindicates Changeand EconomicLife surveywe conducted
a significantdeviationfrom the culturalnorm. betweenNovember1994 andFebruary1996. Life
There are also unique urban conditionsthat histories were collected by personal interviews
presentmaterialimperativesfor living with par- with respondentson a randomhouseholdlist pro-
ents. Housingis an extremelylimitedandvaluable vided by the Census and StatisticsDepartment.
resourcein Hong Kong. Between 1982 and 1997, The survey obtaineda favorableresponserate of
propertypricesfor privatehousingincreasedsev- 59.4% from the targetpopulation,who were age
enfold, comparedto a 3.6 times rise in wages 25 to 55 and had lived in Hong Kong for at least
(Census and Statistics Department,1998). The 10 years.The questionnairewas dividedinto sev-
high pricesof HongKonghousing,whicharesec- eral modulesto cover topics on residentialmove-
ond in Asia only to those of Tokyo,deteryoung ments, family career,educationattainment,and
adultsfrom leadingindependentlifestyles by liv- work history.Of the 1,743 people who were suc-
ing away from theirparents.Obviously,financial cessfully interviewed,only 1,101 were asked to
resourcesplay a vital role in the decisionto leave answerthe moduleon residentialhistory,in order
home in this urbancontext.For those who cannot to shortenthe interviewingtime. The residential
affordhousingin the privatemarket,publichous- historymoduleprovidedinformationon the tim-
ing is an importantalternative.However,public ing of residentialmovementsandthe composition
of households.Attentionwas confined to those
housing is not designed for single young people who were living with parentsat the age of 14, so
and the waitinglist is so long that even qualified
that they could be followed throughtime to ob-
marriedpeople have to wait several years-6
serve theirdeparturefromthe parentalhome.This
years in 1999, to be exact-before a residential criterion excluded 281 migrants who came to
unitcan be allocatedto them.Some youngpeople
Hong Kongafterthe age of 14. Althoughit means
may find it necessary to live with their parents thatthe samplewas biasedtowardnativepersons,
duringthe first few years of their marriageas a the exclusion of these migrantshelped to isolate
transitionalarrangement. Ratherthana steadyde-
life coursedisruptionsin adulthoodtransitionsbe-
cline in extendedfamilies, householdsthat were
cause of migration.After the furtherexclusionof
composedof marriedcouplesandtheirparentsac- 164 cases with incompletedata,an effective sam-
tually increased slightly from 9.4% in 1976 to ple of 656 respondentswas obtained.
9.9% in 1996 (Censusand StatisticsDepartment, This samplerepresentedone of the most sys-
1981, 1996). tematiceffortsin collectinglife historydatain the
In sum,thereis a greatdifferencebetweenChi-
territory,but there were severallimitationsin its
nese and Westernersin the culturalinterpretation researchdesign. Althoughit is convenientto ob-
of leaving the parentalhome. Ratherthan taking tainlongitudinaldatafromretrospectivequestions
it as a necessarylife event thatcontributesto per- in a cross-sectionalsurvey, the resultantinfor-
sonal growth,Chinesetraditionjudgesleavingthe mation might be subjectto memory errors.The
parentalhome as runningagainstfilial piety and inquirywas limited to factualquestionsto mini-
family solidarity.Althoughmodernizationandthe mize memory distortions,and the interviewers
penetrationof Westernvalues in the areasof per- were trainedto constructtime chartsto assist re-
sonal freedomand privacyhave challengedthese spondentsto recall the sequence and timing of
traditionalnotions,culturalconsiderationsare by majorlife events.The birthcohortsthatwerecon-
no means irrelevantto the decision to leave the structedfrom the cross-sectionalsamplesuffered
parentalhome in Hong Kong.To resolveconflicts a representationproblembecause of the attrition
betweentraditionalChinesefamilismand modem of the populationover time. In particular,mem-
individualism,young people need to work out bers of the older cohortswere more likely to be
their own solutionswith referenceto the circum- excludedin the presentsamplingframe.Onemust
stancesof theirlife course developmentin an ur- keep these limitationsin mind when interpreting
ban context. the findings.
618 Journal of Marriage and Family

Measures and not workingwere coded in two dichotomous

variables,with workingas the referencecategory.
Cohortmembershipwas measuredon the basis of Educational qualification and occupational
the respondents'yearof birth.As the samplesize achievementwere includedas two majordimen-
was relativelysmall comparedto the usualcohort sions of personalachievements.Educationalat-
studiesin demography,birthyears were recorded tainmentwas measuredby two dichotomousvar-
in 5-year intervalsto minimize randomfluctua- iables that represented the completion of
tions becauseof insufficientcases. For periodef- high-schooleducationand college educationand
fects, in additionto the calendaryear that was less than high school completionwas the refer-
used in the preliminaryanalysis,we furthercap- ence category. Occupationalachievement was
turedthe periodicfluctuationsof housing afford- measuredby occupationalstatus with the Cam-
abilityin the multivariatemodels.The affordabil- bridge score and income improvementwas mea-
ity measure,which runs from 1964 to 1995, is a sured by a dichotomousvariableof whetherthe
ratioof the housingpriceindex to the wage index
respondentreceivedpay rises as comparedto the
(both indices were set to 100 in 1974). High val- previousjob position.For family transitions,the
ues of the measureindicatethat housing prices
marriagecareerwas dividedinto threestages:(a)
grew faster than wages, that is, housing became single and not actively consideringmarriage,(b)
less affordableto the averageperson.As housing the preparatory stage(from6 monthsbeforeto the
is an importantelement of urban life in Hong time of marriage),and(c) aftermarriage.The first
Kong, housing conditionswere furtherclassified stage was the referencecategoryfor the othertwo
into three majortypes: (a) public rentalhousing,
stages,whichwere measuredby two dichotomous
(b) privaterentalhousing,and(c) privatelyowned variables.Similarly,parenthoodcareerwas divid-
housing (plus residualcategoriessuch as hostels ed into threestages:(a) beforeexpectingthe first
and squatters),with each representingdifferent child, (b) the expectingstage (8 monthsbeforeto
opportunitycosts for moving out of the parental the time of the firstbirth),and (c) afterchildbirth.
home. Privatelyowned housing was used as the
Again, the first stage was the referencecategory
reference category for the two kinds of rental for the lattertwo stages.
In terms of parentalstatus,parentalresources
were measuredby the father'soccupationalstatus ConceptualModel
throughthe Cambridgescores when the respon- As gender is central to the process of leaving
dents were 14 yearsof age. This measurereflects homefor HongKongChinese,the researchdesign
the patriarchalpast of Chinese society, in which consistedof separateanalysesof men andwomen,
men were the heads and the majorbreadwinners in additionto an assessmentof the full sample.
of households. Two dichotomous variables of The focus on changeled to the analysisof period
whetherboth parentssurvivedand whetherboth and cohort trends.In additionto the period and
reachedthe age of 60 or morewere used to reflect cohort factors, the multivariateanalysesfocused
the needfor youngadultsto stayhometakingcare on four key components:(a) urbanhousing, (b)
of parents.Measuresof household structurein- parentalstatus, (c) householdstructure,and (d)
cluded sibling order,sibling size, and household life course development.They capturedthe dy-
composition.Being the first child, the last child, namics of push-pullforces in the leaving home
or the only child in familywere recordedby three process.
dichotomousvariables, with those born in the Cultural traditionswere selectively adapted
middle serving as the referencecategory.In ad- and modifiedto suit the urbancontext in Hong
dition, the total numberof siblings was included Kong. Urbanhousing, in particular,was an im-
to reflect the sharingof filial responsibilitiesin portantfactorin youngpeople'sdecisionsto move
family.Threedichotomousvariablesof household out of the parentalhome. Housing affordability
compositionwere coded to indicatewhetherthe and housingtype were the two measuresused to
respondentswere living with grandparents, rela- analyzethe opportunitycost of movingout of the
tives, or nonrelatives. parentalhome. It was expected that high rental
Among the measuresof life course develop- prices and living in highly subsidizedhousing
ment,threetypes of activitystatuswere classified, would discourageyoungpeople fromestablishing
namelyfull-timeschooling,out of school but not a separatehousehold.
employed,and working.Both full-timeschooling To explicatethe changingnormsof living ar-
Leaving Home in Urban Hong Kong 619

rangements,the analysis furtherconsideredvari- the parentalhome is a time-dependentevent, two

ous aspectsof parentalstatusandhouseholdstruc- types of censorshipwere inevitablyencountered
ture in the models. Parentalstatuswas measured in this analysis.The first was because of the in-
in terms of the ability to influencechildren'sde- terview schedule,as some respondentswere still
cisions and the actualneed for childrento remain living with their parentswhen they were inter-
at home. It was predictedthatparentswithgreater viewed. The second type of censorshipoccurred
economicresourcesweremorelikely to keeptheir when both parentshad died before respondents
childrenaroundthem.Becauseof the call of filial moved out. Althoughwe were unableto further
piety, havingonly one survivingparentor elderly observe the event of leaving the parentalhome
parentswould also makeit harderfor young peo- beyondthe time of censorship,we did know what
ple to leave home. In terms of householdstruc- happenedin the periodbeforethatcensorship.The
ture,the distributionof filialresponsibilityin fam- proportionalhazardsmodel has the advantageof
ily was examinedthroughsibling size and order. fully utilizing the availableinformationup until
Chinese tradition stressed that the oldest son the time at which censorshipoccurs. The model
should stay with his parents,but the availability has the form of:
of sibling supportmight carry a much greater
log hi(t) = ao(t) + 3i,x + + r3kXik,
weight today when leaving the parentalhome is
considered. The norms of living arrangements wherethe log of hazardrate for the ithindividual
were analyzedwith householdcompositionmea- is an additivefunctionof the baselinehazard,o(t),
sures. We believed that living with grandparents and the k explanatoryvariables.Takingexponen-
would reinforcefilial piety and discourageyoung tiationon both sides of the equationleads to haz-
people from leaving theirparentalhomes. Living ardratesas multiplicativefunctionsof the explan-
with nonfamilymembers,however,would lead to atoryvariablesandthe coefficientassociatedwith
a greaterinclinationto leave home becauseof ris- each variable,exp(3k),is referredto as the risk
ing concernsof personalspace and privacy. ratio.Withlife historydata,we were ableto mod-
In this article,we ask whetherleaving the pa- el the shift of hazardrates as life course circum-
rentalhomehas becomea uniquelife stageamong stances changed.As time was an importantaxis
Hong Kong Chinese.Threeaspectsof life course in the analysis, the explanatoryvariablesin the
developmentwere analyzedto answerthis ques- models fell into two categories: time-invariant
tion:(a) activitystatus,(b) achievementlevel, and variablesand time-dependentvariables.Birthco-
(c) familytransitions.It was anticipatedthatthose horts,the father'soccupationalstatus,and sibling
who were in school or not employed would be statusbelongedto the firstcategory,as theirval-
less likely to leave home than those who were ues did not changeover time. All othervariables
working.Those with higherlevels of achievement belongedto the secondcategorybecausetheirval-
in education,occupationalstatus,and pay would ues changedas individualsaged (Allison, 1995).
have more resourcesto supporta separatehouse-
hold and thus would be more likely to leave the RESULTS
parentalhome. We furthertested the thesis that
leaving the parentalhome was very muchdepen- Leavingthe ParentalHome in the UnitedStates
denton familytransitionsamongHongKongChi- and Hong Kong
nese. First marriage,particularlyamong women,
would be associatedwith a greaterlikelihoodof To gain a bettersense of how Chinesecanbe com-
leaving the parentalhome, whereasthe arrivalof paredto people in othercultures,we contrastthe
the firstchild mightreversethis tendencybecause processof leavingthe parentalhome in the United
of the childcareservices providedby parents. States and Hong Kong in Table 1. Althoughthe
two societiesare similarlymodernizedandurban-
ized, the life coursedevelopmentsof theirpeople
AnalyticProcedures are quite different.Most young people stayed at
This study used a proportionalhazardsmodel to home with their parentsbefore the age of 20 in
analyze the hazardrate of leaving the parental both countries, but thereafter,Americans were
home. The hazardrate, h(t), is the instantaneous more readyto leave than Chinese.In 1970, only
probabilitythat an event such as leaving the pa- 37% of Americansin their early 20s and 9% in
rentalhome will occurbetweentime t and t + At, their late 20s stayed home, whereasthe Chinese
where At is made infinitivelysmall. As leaving figures were much higher at 69% and 50% re-
620 Journal of Marriage and Family


genderdifferencesin Hong Kong. By their early
30s, most men and women had finished school
United andmarried,butthe gap remainedsubstantial.Be-
Hong Kong States tween 1975 and 1990, 10% to 23% of women
Age lived with theirparents,whereas40% to 60% of
Groups 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1970 1984
men did so in the same period. This patternis
Total consistent with the Chinese traditionthat sons
18-19 95 94 95 100 77 80 should live with parentsto fulfill duties of filial
20-24 69 80 77 80 85 37 45
25-29 50 48 50 44 54 9 14 piety, and that daughtersmust leave home after
30-34 39 28 32 22 marriage.
18-19 95 90 93 100 72 75 CohortTrends
20-24 55 70 67 68 78 31 37
25-29 31 24 31 28 38 7 11 Social changetakesplaceto the extentthatpeople
30-34 23 14 17 10 fail to replicatethe experience of those before
Men them (Ryder, 1965). To track the course of
18-19 94 100 97 100 83 85 change,we performedcohortanalysison the de-
20-24 84 93 92 93 92 44 53 fromthe parentalhome by birthyears;the
73 76 75 65 73 12 17
resultsappearin Table2. Analysisof the full sam-
30-34 60 46 52 40
ple shows that more people chose to live with
Note: The Hong Kong data are from our study, Social their parentsin their mid-20s. The percentageof
Change and Economic Life: A Sociological Study, 1994-
1996, and the United States figures are adaptedfrom Glick young adultsstayinghome at the age of 25 varied
and Lin (1986). between59%to 63%amongcohortsbornin 1960
and before and rose substantiallyto 71% in the
youngest cohort born after 1960. By the time
spectively.Clearly,Chineseweremorelikely than these people reachedthe age of 35, adultsof the
Americansto live with theirparents,andthis was youngerbirthcohortswereconsistentlymorelike-
primarilyattributableto cultural factors rather ly to leave homethanthosebornbeforethem.The
thaneconomicdevelopmentor urbanization. Both percentageof respondentswho were living with
societies, however,experienceda slight increase theirparentsdeclinedsteadilyfrom 29%of those
of young people stayinglongerwith theirparents. born before 1951 to 17%of those born between
For example,the percentageof Americansliving 1956 and 1960.
at home in theirearly 20s rose from 37%to 45% Furtheranalysis,however,shows thatthese ag-
between 1970 and 1984, and the Chinese also gregate trends conceal importantgender differ-
moved up from 69% to 80% in the same period. ences. More women of the youngerbirthcohorts
We agreewith Glick andLin (1986) in attributing were inclined to stay with their parentsin their
this upwardshift to the extensionof the schooling 20s, presumablybecauseof expandededucational
periodand the delay of marriage. opportunitiesand late marriage.At the age of 25,
Table 1 furtherreveals importantgender dif- the percentageof women who were living with
ferences in the home-leavingprocess.Men were their parentsstayed between 42% and 45% for
morelikely thanwomento live with theirparents, cohortsborn in 1960 and before but rose drasti-
presumablybecausethey studiedfor longerperi- cally to 62% for the cohortbornafter 1960. Sim-
ods and marriedat older ages, but the gendergap ilarly,the percentageat the age of 30 was stable,
was muchgreaterin Hong Kong thanin the Unit- between 19% and 21%, for the three older co-
ed States. For instance,duringthe mid-1980s in horts,butthe figurefor the youngestcohortquick-
Hong Kong, 68% of women versus93% of men ly jumped to 30%. These figures suggest that
lived withtheirparentsin theirearly20s, and28% womenwho were bornafter 1960 appearedto be
of women versus 65% of men lived with their the focal pointof changewith regardto the timing
parentsin their late 20s. The contrastwas much of leavingthe parentalhome. This changein res-
smallerin the UnitedStates,with 37%of women idential history might have been caused by the
versus 53% of men living at home in their early expansion of educational opportunitiesin the
20s, and 11%of womenversus17%of menliving 1970s,whichmostlybenefitedyoungwomenwho
at home in their late 20s. The longer schooling were born after 1960 (Post, 1994). In contrast,
periodand late marriagedo not explainall of the men exhibiteda tendencyto leave home earlier.
Leaving Home in Urban Hong Kong 621


Before At
Birth Cohorts 15 20 25 30 35 Marriage Marriage
1950 and before 100 89 63 39 29 83 42
1951-55 100 89 60 35 21 83 49
1956-60 99 92 59 35 17 82 36
1961 and after 100 93 71 39 70 31
1950 and before 100 87 44 19 13 88 28
1951-55 100 84 45 21 12 82 33
1956-60 100 91 42 19 8 85 25
1961 and after 100 93 62 30 81 30
1950 and before 100 91 85 63 49 77 59
1951-55 100 96 81 54 33 83 71
1956-60 99 94 83 58 30 77 53
1961 and after 100 93 81 50 56 31
Note: Data come from our study, Social Change and Economic Life: A Sociological Study, 1994-1996. Before marriage
and at marriage refer to 6 months before the first marriageand the first month after marriage,respectively.

At the age of 25 the percentageof men who were monthsbeforemarriage.In the firstmonthof mar-
living with theirparentswas quitestable,between riage, these percentagesdeclinedsharplyto range
81% and 85%, among all cohorts, but the per- between36%and49%.The youngestbirthcohort
centage droppedsubstantially5 years later,from experiencedgreaterchanges,with70%living with
63% of the oldest cohortto 50% of the youngest theirparentsbeforemarriageand 31%continuing
cohort, with a minor irregularityin between. At to do so aftermarriage.These figuressuggestthat
the age of 35, both male and female adultsof the leaving the parentalhome before marriageis far
youngerbirthcohortswere consistentlyless likely from being a normativeevent in the growingup
to live with their parentsthan those of the older process.
cohorts.Despitethis downwardtrend,one should Consistentwith traditionalnorms,mostwomen
note that in all birthcohortsmen were still more were underclose parentalsupervisionbeforemar-
likely to live with theirparentsthanwere women, riage.Beforemarriage,a high percentageof wom-
which suggests a clear gender divide in family en, between81%and 88%fromall cohorts,lived
duties. with their parents.After these women married,
only 28% of the oldest cohort and 30% of the
MaritalTransitionsand Leavingthe youngest cohort stayed with their parents.The
ParentalHome sharpcontrastbetween these two sets of figures
With the rising awarenessof personaldevelop- suggeststhatit was commonfor women to leave
the parentalhome at the time of their marriage
mentandthe weakeningof traditionalfamilismin
andthatthis move was a partof the marriagetran-
highly capitalisticHong Kong,morepeopleof the sition ratherthanan independentlife event. Men,
youngerbirthcohortspreferto establishtheirown
home at some point. Among respondentsof the on the otherhand,were more likely thanwomen
1956-60 birthcohort,only 17%(or 8%of women to leave the parentalhome before marriage.For
and 30% of men) lived with their parentsat the the cohortsbornin 1960 andbefore,between77%
age of 35. We furtherlook into the questionof and 83% of men lived with their parentsbefore
whetherleaving home has become an indepen- marriageand the percentagedroppedto 56% for
dent, normativelife stage in Chinese society by the cohort born after 1960. Consistentwith the
analyzingresidentialpatternsaccordingto respon- traditionalprescription,men were more likely
dents' maritalstatusin Table2. For the threeco- than women to stay with their parentsaftermar-
hortsbornin 1960 andbefore,82%to 83%of the riage. The percentageran from 53% to 71% for
respondentslived at home with their parents6 the threeolder cohortsand droppedconsiderably
622 Journal of Marriage and Family

to 31% for the youngest cohort; despite fluctua- TABLE 3. RISK RATIO OF LEAVING THE PARENTAL HOME

tions in these percentages, all of the figures were Predictors Total Women Men
consistently higher for men than for women.
Birth cohorta
1951-55 1.21 0.98 2.65**
A Hazard Rate Model of Leaving the 1956-60 1.31 1.25 2.31*
Parental Home 1961-65 1.15 1.05 2.89*
1966 and after 1.28 1.15 3.30*
Table 3 presents the risk ratio of leaving the pa- Period effect
rental home from the proportional hazards model.
Housing/wage index 0.16** 0.31 0.09
The birth cohort and period effects were included
in the model to analyze the overall trends that had Housing typeb
Public rental housing 0.25*** 0.29*** 0.21***
taken place in the past few decades. The model Private rental housing 1.27 1.16 1.76*
also considered urban housing, parental status,
household structure,and life course developments,
Father's socioeconomic
which jointly determined the decision to leave the status 1.00 1.00 0.99
parental home. Analysis of these variables will One surviving parentc 0.89 0.95 0.85
help us to understand the dynamics of the home Parentsaged 60+d 1.11 1.36 0.89
leaving process and to assess the extent to which Sibling status
Hong Kong Chinese deviated from the traditional First childe 1.10 1.13 1.14
family norms of residential arrangement. Last childe 0.92 0.85 0.82
Only childe 0.42* 0.40 0.53
Number of siblings 1.06* 1.07* 1.05
Cohort effects. The data suggest that leaving home
Household composition
steadily gained popularity among men born more
recently. For example, men born after 1965 were Live with grandparents' 0.06*** 0.08* 0.04***
3.3 times more likely to move out of the parental Live with relativesg 1.95** 2.06** 1.29
Live with nonrelativesh 2.88*** 1.92** 9.28***
home than those born before 1951, the baseline
for cohort comparisons. This result may conceal Activity status'
In school 0.61 0.51 0.67
the opposing trends, which appear in Tables 1 and
Not employed 1.28 1.45 0.51
2, that more young men stayed at home recently
in their early 20s, but that a greater number from Achievement level
each succeeding birth cohort eventually left home High-school graduate' 0.91 0.80 1.16
College graduatej 1.05 0.62 0.72
after their mid-20s, particularly when they got
Occupationalstatus 1.00 1.00 1.00
married. The positive cohort effect suggests that Pay raisek 1.31* 1.39* 1.21
the latter trend prevailed over the extended period
Family stage
of staying at home. The case for women was dif- 47.63*** 72.80*** 21.17***
ferent. Although more women of the younger After marriage' 5.36*** 7.16*** 3.74***
birth cohorts left home in their mid-30s, they ac- Prechildbirthperiodn" 1.35 1.38 1.13
After birthof 1st child" 0.45*** 0.45*** 0.40***
tually exhibited a high rate of staying with their
parents throughout their 20s. With these trends N 643 353 290
1107 811 369
offsetting each other, no significant birth cohort X2
27 27
df 27
effects were found in the female sample.
Note: Data are from our study, Social Change and Eco-
Urban housing. As living away from parents re- nomic Life: A Sociological Study, 1994-1996.
i1950 and before is the reference category. bPrivately
quires financial resources, the rates of leaving owned housing is the referencecategory.cBothparentssur-
home should vary with periodic fluctuations in viving is the referencecategory. dAtleast one parentyoun-
rental housing prices. Indeed, we found that less ger than 60 years old is the referencecategory. eThoseborn
affordable rental housing suppressed the desire to in the middle is the contrast category. fNot living with
move out in the full sample. Scarcity in housing grandparentsis the referencecategory. gNot living with rel-
atives is the reference category. hNot living with nonrela-
supply has long been a dominant factor in Hong tives is the reference category. 'Workingis the reference
Kong family life, and this is reflected in the effects category. jNot completing high school is the referencecat-
of the housing sectors. The results indicated that egory. kNo pay raise is the referencecategory. 'Six months
before first marriage is the reference category. mEight
respondents who resided in public rental housing months before first birth is the reference category.
were less likely to move out of their parents'
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
home. Their risk of moving out was cut to one
Leaving Home in Urban Hong Kong 623

fourthof those living in privatelyownedproperty living with grandparents has importantsocializa-

in the full sampleand this relationshipcontinued tion effects that pass on the values of traditional
to hold in the femaleandmale subsamples.As we familism to young adults. Indeed, this was the
suggested earlier,public housing creates greater case, becauseliving with grandparents drastically
incentivesfor young adultsto stay at home, be- reducedthe risk of leaving home to 6% of those
cause they may inherittheirparents'rightto low- not residingwith grandparents in the full sample,
cost housing.Living in privaterentalhousing,by to 8%in the femalesample,andto 4%in the male
contrast,sped up the process of leaving home. sample. In contrast,householdsthat were com-
This is especially true for the male sample, for prised of nonfamily members tended to push
whom living in privatehousing inflatedthe risk young adultsaway.The risk of leavinghome was
of moving away by 76%when comparedto those almostdoublein the full samplewhen living with
residing in privately owned housing. Living in relativesandroughlytriplewhen living with non-
family-ownedhousingmight have enticedyoung relatives.Similareffects appearedin the subsam-
adults to stay with their parentsby offeringfree ples, buttheirimpactsvariedbetweenwomenand
accommodation. men. Contraryto the traditionalnotionthatfamily
occasionallyincludesa wider kinshipand quasi-
Parental status. The analysis of parentalstatus kinshipgroup(Lau, 1982), youngadultspreferred
showed that althoughhousing resourceshelped a more intimatefamily space thatwas comprised
parentsto keep their childrenat home, parental of immediatefamily members.Withthe presence
power,as measuredby the father'ssocioeconomic of nonfamilymembersat home, the modem val-
status,had no effect on departures.We expected ues of privacyand personalspace pushedyoung
that having one survivingparent,or elderly par- adultsto leave home earlier.
ents, would make it harderfor young adults,par-
ticularlysons, to leave home because of the tra- Life course development.Leaving the parental
ditionalprescriptionsof filial piety. This was not homeis a decisionthatis contingenton life course
the case-the male sampleconsistentlyshoweda developmentin terms of activity engagements,
lower risk of leaving home in these conditions, achievementlevels, and family stages. We clas-
but the effects were not strongenoughto be sta- sifiedactivityin termsof full-timeschooling,non-
tisticallysignificant.It would have been tempting work,andwork,with the expectationthatthe first
to concludethat Chinese familismno longerhas two states would lower the risk of leaving home
a place in modem Hong Kong, but additional when comparedwith the third,becauseof the fi-
analysisof sibling structuresuggesteda different nancialimplications.It turnedout, however,that
interpretation. none of the coefficientswas statisticallysignifi-
cant, althoughthree out of four were in the ex-
Householdstructure.The findings pertainingto pected direction.This situationcontrastssharply
household structurerevealed that sibling order with the Westernexperience,in which financial
was not a relevantfactorin leaving home, as the independenceis directlylinkedto leavingthe pa-
oldest son and the youngestson were not signifi- rentalhome. The resultsin Tables1 and2 further
cantly differentfrom those who were bornin the suggestthatHong KongChinesestayedwiththeir
middle. Contraryto the traditionalnormthat the parentsfor a long periodafterthey finishedschool
oldest son shouldbear a greaterfamily responsi- and becameactivelyengagedin the labormarket.
bility than other siblings, he was no less likely We also foundno effects fromeducationalattain-
thanthose siblingsto leave homein contemporary ment and occupationalstatus. It seems that per-
Hong Kong. Rather,it was the distributionof re- sonal achievementswere unrelatedto the desire
sponsibilityamongsiblingsin takingcare of par- to move out of the parentalhome. The only ex-
ents that mattered.Being the only child in the ception was receiving pay raises, which inflated
family lowered the risk of leaving home to 42% the risk by 31%in the full sample,with a slightly
of those who had siblings and were bor in the strongerimpacton women thanon men.
middlein the full sample.Furthermore, the effect Althoughactivitystatusand achievementlev-
of sibling size suggestedthateach additionalsib- els had little to do with leavingthe parentalhome,
ling raisedthe risk by 6% in the full sampleand Hong Kong Chinesewere very responsiveto the
7% in the female sample. family formationprocess in this regard.During
Householdcompositionis vital to understand- the premarriageperiod,from 6 monthsbefore to
ing the patternof leaving home. We believe that the time of marriage,the risk of moving out was
624 Journal of Marriage and Family

48 times greaterthan duringthe time spent not en staying at home in their 20s, probablyattrib-
activelypreparingfor marriagein the full sample. utableto prolongedschoolingand late marriage.
A genderdifferencewas evident,with women at Leavingthe parentalhome is far frombecom-
a much higher risk than men (73 times vs. 21 ing an independent,normativelife stage in Chi-
times) when they were aboutto marry.This sug- nese society. Most female respondentsstayed at
gests a directrelationship,especiallyamongwom- home before and left immediatelyaftermarriage.
en, betweenmarriageand leaving home. Married This patternchangedvery little over time, which
respondentshad a 5 times greaterpropensityto suggests that leaving the parentalhome is a part
leave home thanthose who were not considering of the marriagetransitionratherthanan indepen-
marriage.As marriedwomen were not supposed dent step toward adulthood.Slightly more men
to live with theirparents,they had a muchhigher than women left home before marriagebut the
risk of movingout thandid marriedmen;the risk proportionwho stayedwith theirparentswas still
ratios were 7 times for marriedwomen and ap- high, which meansthatleavinghome beforemar-
proximately4 times for marriedmen. Expecting riage is uncommonin Hong Kong. Consistent
childbirth,which covered the 8-monthperiodof with Chinesetradition,men weremorelikely than
the first pregnancy,was not a relevantfactor in women to live with their parentsafter marriage.
the decision to move out, but the risk of leaving Clearly,Hong Kong Chinese continueto follow
home changedafterthe firstchild was born.Rath- traditionalgender divisions in relationto family
er than encouragingthe search for more family obligationsdespiterapidsocial and economicde-
space,the arrivalof the firstchildactuallyreduced velopment.
the risk of leaving home to 45% of those who Althoughit seems thatmodernizationdoes not
were not expectinga child in the full sampleand always act unfavorablyon traditionalpractices,
its impactwas aboutthe same for the femaleand the rationalethat now supportsChinesefamilism
male subsamples.Apparently,parentalchildcare may be quite differentfrom that of the past. Our
services were highly valuedand offeredpractical hazardrateanalysesaskedwhy Chinesefamilism
incentivesfor not moving out of their childhood survived,the extent to which it had been modi-
home. fied, and how it had adaptedto the urbanenvi-
ronment.We foundthattraditionpassesfromone
generationto the next, as living withgrandparents
DISCUSSION helps to socialize young adultsinto remainingin
the parentalhome. Personalachievementwas rel-
Conventionalwisdomholds thateconomicdevel-
atively unimportantamong the respondents,as
opmentandmodernizationlureyoungpeopleinto they were not very responsiveto educationallev-
leaving home earlier to ensure greaterpersonal el, employmentstatus,or socioeconomicstanding
freedomand privacy.We began this researchby whenconsideringa move awayfromtheirparents.
asking whether leaving the parentalhome has However,pay rises werethe exceptionto thisrule.
gained popularityamong Chinesein Hong Kong Traditionalfamily obligations remainedgender
andwhetherliving awayfromparentshas become
specific, as many women waited until they mar-
a uniquestage in the growingup process. Com- ried to move out.
parativeanalysis revealedthat Hong Kong Chi- However, there were signs of change. More
nese were far more likely thanAmericansto live young men of the recent birth cohortsleft their
with their parents despite both societies being parentsand theirresidentialpatternmovedcloser
highlymodernizedandurbanized.Consistentwith to that of women, that is, they left the parental
Chinesetradition,more men than women stayed homeaftermarriage.Bothmen andwomenshared
at home, even when genderdifferencesin school- a narrowerdefinitionof familythanthe traditional
ing and marriagetimingwere takeninto account. notionthatcovereda widerkinshipnetwork.Liv-
This evidencesuggeststhatleavinghome is more ing with nonfamilymembers,relativesor nonrel-
than a simple functionof modernizationas pro- atives, tendedto push young adultsaway.Having
pelled by economicdevelopment.Rather,cultural dependentparentsdid not stop youngrespondents
elements also play a criticalrole in how people from leaving home, and being the oldest son in
interpretthe event of leavinghome and how they the family had no bearingon the odds of living
act accordingly.Althoughmorepeopleeventually with parents.More and more decisions to move
move out of the parentalhome, modernization ac- out were basedon practicalreasons.The viability
tuallyleadsto a higherproportionof youngwom- of aged care for parents,for example,was deci-
Leaving Home in Urban Hong Kong 625

sive in residentialarrangements.Being the only the elderly by their family. Hong Kong Journal of
child in the family lowered the risk of leaving Gerontology, 1, 4-9.
Glick, P. C., & Lin, S. L. (1986). More young adults
home, but a largernumberof siblings increased are living with theirparents:Who are they?Journal
thatrisk. of Marriage and the Family, 48, 107-112.
Leavingthe parentalhome was also a decision Hong, L. K. (1973). A profileanalysisof the Chinese
deeply embeddedin the urbancontext.We have familyin an urbanindustrializedsetting.Internation-
demonstrated thatthe decisionto move out is sen- al Journal of Sociology of the Family, 3, 1-9.
W.(1989). The Asian-American
Kanjanapan, traditional
sitive to periodicfluctuationsin the affordability household. In F Goldscheider& C. Goldscheider
of housing. Indeed, housing was a resourcethat (Eds.), Ethnicity and the new family economy: Living
was used to keep childrenat home. Althoughso- arrangements and intergenerational financial flows
cioeconomicstandingdid not enhanceparentalin- (pp. 39-55). Boulder,CO: WestviewPress.
fluence,parentswith public housingentitlements Kerckhoff,A. C., & Macrae,J. (1992). Leavingthe pa-
rentalhome in GreatBritain:A comparativeperspec-
offeredgreaterincentivesfor childrento stay be- tive. Sociological Quarterly, 33, 281-301.
hind when comparedto those living in private Kett,J. F (1983). The stages of life, 1790-1840. In M.
housing.This was largelyattributable to the state Gordon (Ed.), The American family in social-histor-
policy that allows childrento inheritthe rightto ical perspective (3rd ed., pp. 229-254). New York:
public housing.Besides housing,childcareis an- St. Martin'sPress.
other key concern in urbanlife, as both parents King, A. (1996). The transformationof Confucianism
in the post-Confucianera. In W. M. Tu (Ed.), Con-
are likely to be employed.Ratherthanlookingfor
fucian traditions in East Asian modernity (pp. 265-
more family space, the respondentspreferredto 276). Cambridge,MA: HarvardUniversityPress.
live with theirparentsafterthe birthof theirfirst Kwan,A. Y. H. (1995). Elderabuse in Hong Kong:A
child. Apparently,parentalchildcareservices are new family problemfor the old East?Journalof El-
der Abuse & Neglect, 6, 65-80.
highly valuedin urbanHong Kong.
Ourassessmentof the Chineseway of leaving Kwok, H. K. (2000). A comparative study of the middle
class and working class sandwich generations, the
the parentalhome is that changehas been taking stress they encounter and their coping strategies in
place graduallybut the extent and pace of that contemporary Hong Kong society. Unpublished doc-
change has not matchedHong Kong's rapidde- toral dissertation,The Chinese Universityof Hong
velopmentover the last few decades. Moreover, Kong, Hong Kong.
the level of change is uneven between men and Lau, S. K. (1981). Chinesefamilismin an urban-indus-
trialsetting:The case of HongKong.Journalof Mar-
women. Leaving the parentalhome has not yet
riage and the Family, 43, 977-992.
become an independentstage in the growing-up Lau, S. K. (1982). Society and politics in Hong Kong.
process and it continuesto be closely associated Hong Kong:The ChineseUniversityof Hong Kong.
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of the family. In Hong Kong: Politics and society in
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out is increasinglydominatedby practicalconsid- cial Press (in Chinese).
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This projectwas fundedby the ResearchGrantsCoun- Hong Kong: Hong Kong Instituteof Asia-Pacific
Studies,The ChineseUniversityof Hong Kong.
cil, Hong Kong,the BritishAcademy,UnitedKingdom, Podmore,D., & Chaney,D. (1973). Parentalinfluence
and the Departmentof Sociology,The ChineseUniver-
on the occupationalchoice of young adultsin Hong
sity of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Kong, and comparisonswith the United States, the
Philippines and Japan. International Journal of Com-
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