Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Merril Silverstein

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


This dissertation examines the changes in China's social and demographic landscape and their effects on adult children's relationships with their elderly parents. It focuses on how modernization, urban migration, lower birth rates, and an aging population have transformed traditional filial piety norms and intergenerational expectations in Chinese society. The first paper aims to investigate the association between children’s economic status and parents’ self-rated health and examine the potential mediating mechanisms for this relationship. Utilizing the 2014 wave of the China Longitudinal Aging Social Survey (CLASS), this study predicted parent’s self-rated health from children’s economic status using inverse probability of treatment weighting to account for selection and endogeneity bias. The paper further examined depressive symptoms, kin and non-kin social support networks, emotional closeness to children, and economic support from children, as potential mediators of this relationship. The study reveals that parents whose children had greater economic success tended to have better self-rated health. For both rural and urban older adults, depressive symptoms served as the most influential mediator. However, only among rural older adults did the size of their support networks mediate the relationship between children’s economic status and perceived health. The results from this study suggest that children’s economic success contributes to better self-rated health among older adults. In part this relationship was explained by better emotional well-being and greater availability of support resources among parents in rural areas with successful children. This quasi-causal analysis demonstrates that adult children remain important for the well-being of their older parents in China, but also suggests that health inequalities in later life are exacerbated by the chance of having economically successful offspring. The second paper investigates the relationship between geographic proximity of children and support received from them and parents’ perceptions filial piety in rural China. The study used the 2021 wave of the Longitudinal Study of Older Adults in Anhui Province to predict parental assessments of filial piety for each of their children. Random effects linear probability models using an internal moderator approach were employed to compare coresident children with non-coresident children based on their proximity and support provided. Findings indicate that parents tend to perceive their coresident children as being more filial compared to non-coresident children, particularly when parents are in worse functional health. However, non-coresident children can compensate for their absence in being perceived as filial by providing financial support, as well as by maintaining frequent visits and communication with their parents. The study’s results suggest filial piety norms in rural China have adapted to the diminished emphasis on intergenerational coresidence resulting from urbanization and significant rural-urban migration trends in modern China and requiring that children find alternative ways to fulfill their filial obligations. The last paper examines the division of parental support responsibilities among adult children in rural China, investigating whether sibling’s provision of parental support influence adult children’s financial and instrumental support to their parents. This paper also examines the influence of the children’s socioeconomic and migration status on their provision of financial and instrumental support to their parents. Using the 2021 wave of the Longitudinal Study of Older Adults in Anhui Province China, the results show that sibling’s provision of instrumental care tend to motivate adult children to provide more instrumental support, but children tend to withdraw their instrumental and financial support when one of the siblings is providing daily instrumental support to the parents. This study also shows that there are some variations in parental support within the family based on the children’s characteristics. Using fixed effect models to compare adult children with their siblings, it is suggested that children who live with their parents tend to provide more instrumental support, while adult children who are urban residents and live apart from their parents offer more financial support. In addition, children who perform agricultural work or who do not work are more likely to provide instrumental support, while those who have professional jobs tend to provide more financial support. These results suggest a systematic division of parental support within the rural Chinese family and contribute to our understanding of how caregiving and financial responsibilities are negotiated in the context of changing family structures and migration patterns in China.


Open Access

Available for download on Saturday, January 17, 2026

Included in

Sociology Commons