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    More Chinese Fathers Helping, Yet ‘Widowed Parenting’ Persists

    Highlighting that mothers and grandparents are still responsible for childcare across China, a new study underscores the need for policy reforms, including more leave for parents.

    Mothers and grandparents continue to bear the main responsibility for childcare in China; income disparities between spouses play a crucial role in determining childcare roles; and yet fathers, especially in Shanghai, have taken on more significant roles in evening childcare. 

    These are among the key insights in the latest Blue Book on Chinese Parenting And Child Development released Dec. 16. The study was compiled by the China Welfare Institute Development Research Center and New York University Shanghai. 

    While highlighting evolving trends in family dynamics and parental involvement across the country, the study also underscores the need to implement and extend paternity leave policies to address the issue of “widowed parenting,” where only one parent is actively involved in a child’s upbringing.

    Analyzing data from 2012 to 2020, the study reveals that in most Chinese families with children aged up to 14, mothers and grandparents are predominantly the caregivers, with fathers contributing the least in terms of main childcare responsibilities.

    The data shows a significant disparity in caregiving roles: About 80% of children are dropped off and picked up from school by their mothers or grandparents, while only 7% primarily receive this support from their fathers. 

    In addition, fathers are responsible for only about 4% and 5% of daily and nightly childcare, respectively. 

    The study identified consistent patterns of childcare without fathers being present across both urban and rural settings. It showed that only 3% of children aged 0 to 6 are primarily cared for by their fathers during the day in both environments.

    This pattern of fathers being less involved in childcare was seen across different education and income levels in China. But from 2018 to 2020, the study noticed a positive change: More fathers started to take on the main role in caring for their children.

    In Shanghai, the rate of fathers as primary nighttime caregivers rose by 5% over a two-year period starting 2018. And only 21% of preschool children in Shanghai are cared for by their mothers during the day, which is half the national average.

    The Blue Book analysis suggests that Shanghai’s status as an economic hub known for its inclusiveness and openness, along with women in the city having higher income and education levels, may be influencing this change in childcare. 

    The study also highlights that the income gap between parents significantly affects how childcare duties are divided within the family. When the husband’s income is higher or similar to the wife’s, women tend to take on the majority of childcare duties. 

    However, when the wife’s income is higher than the husband’s, the roles rarely reverse. The latter scenario became the subject of widespread debate across the country after TV personality Fu Shou’er and her stay-at-home husband featured in the popular reality show “See You Again” in October. 

    To promote greater involvement of Chinese fathers in parenting, experts have emphasized the importance of policy reforms, including enhancing maternity leave and childcare leave systems.

    The Blue Book indicates that paternity leave and parental leave are crucial in boosting fatherly engagement in childcare. These policies can serve as institutional measures to address the issue of “widowed parenting.” 

    Under current policies, Chinese women are entitled to 98 days of maternity leave, with additional days as determined by local regulations. In contrast, paternity leave is considerably shorter, lasting only 10 to 30 days, depending on the region.

    In response to China’s declining birth rate, the government has introduced various policy measures to ease the burden of childcare on families. This gained momentum following a 2019 State Council directive that introduced the concept of “childcare leave.” 

    Consequently, numerous cities have adopted similar policies, granting both parents the opportunity to support child-rearing more actively. For instance, in the southern province of Guangdong, each parent of a child under the age of three is eligible for ten days of “childcare leave” every year.

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: IC)