This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Filial Piety on the Ropes Again in China

As I discuss in Chapter 8, filial piety is an important element of Chinese society, drawing especially from the teachings of Confucius. However, it is much harder to put into practice when the probability is high that a parent will survive to an old age than when the probability is fairly low--as it has been for most of human history (and certainly as it was in Confucius' day). So, a declining death rate eventually catches up with filial piety, as does declining fertility--especially when it drops below replacement level, leaving a smaller pool of children to help out the aged parent. This week's Economist adds a third demographic dimension to the problem--migration of children away from their parents.
CONFUCIUS said that while a man’s parents were alive, he should not travel far afield. Recent economic opportunities have been straining such norms as much as iconoclastic Maoism ever did. So the Communist Party, now more interested in social harmony than revolution, is weighing in. On July 1st it introduced a law to require children to visit or keep in touch with their elderly parents. On the same day, a court in the eastern city of Wuxi ruled in the case of a 77-year-old mother who had sued her daughter for not visiting her and for failing to help her financially. The court ordered the daughter to do both, or face fines or even detention.
The story notes that the law is going to be extremely difficult to enforce, and is probably just a symbolic gesture unless, as one person noted, the government is going to pay for vacations and travel back to the parental home. In the end, demography is likely to trump filial piety (but don't tell my children I said that).

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