Domestic Gender Inequalities in China: Count Children In


Progress toward gender equality is a tale of two spheres in China. In the public sphere, we see converging trends in the education and labour force participation of men and women. In the domestic sphere, however, women still shoulder the lion’s share of housework. On average, Chinese women spend around 18 hours on housework per week—three times as much as that of their male counterparts.

Although much attention has been paid to the gendered pattern of adults’ domestic labour in the Chinese family, children remain a missing piece of the puzzle as to why the gender revolution has stalled and how domestic gender inequalities are produced and reproduced.

Children make a not-insignificant contribution to domestic labour. An average Chinese child aged 10–15 years old spends around 4 hours on housework per week. The gender gap observed in adulthood is mirrored by the pattern of children’s housework time even before they are channelled into distinctive housekeeping and breadwinning gender roles. Every week, a Chinese girl aged 10–15 years old spends more than an hour on housework than her male counterpart.

Two-Parent Families: Behavioural Modelling in Context

Children learn to “do” gender through everyday interactions with their parents and other family members. In two-parent families, domestic gender inequalities are passed on from parents to children when children model their parents’ gendered housework behaviours. My research has also shown that girls and boys imitate their parents’ housework behaviours in distinct ways in rural and urban areas, where there are different gender norms.

When parents adopt an equal share of housework in urban China, where gender norms are less traditional and options for domestic outsourcing are readily available, girls spend less time on housework, while boys spend more time on housework. In contrast, in rural China, when parents share more equally, girls do not reduce their housework. To do so would go against traditional gender norms, which oblige girls to compensate for their mothers’ lessened contribution to housework.

Diverse Family Forms: Patriarchal Domestic Labour Substitution

Family structure—i.e. the presence/absence of different family members—also plays an important role in shaping children’s gendered participation in housework. The 2010 Census showed that the two-parent nuclear model only accounted for 33 percent of all Chinese families—a drop from 54 percent in 1990. Due to the country’s phenomenal internal migration, as many as 61 million left-behind children, i.e., 22 percent of all Chinese children, experience the absence of one or both parents from home.

My research reveals that the delegation of housework is regulated by a patriarchal hierarchy in these non-two-parent families. Girls are seen to compensate for the lack of domestic input from male family members, and young adolescents usually “substitute” for the lack of domestic contribution from elder siblings and family members. When a female family member, such as the mother, is absent from home, children and particularly girls are seen to spend more time on housework. Similarly, the presence of the father and elder male siblings at home adds to the domestic burden of Chinese children.

Intergenerational Offloading: Reproducing Gender Inequalities

Participation in paid work and the economic independence it enables have long been framed as important means through which adult women achieve gender equality. Nevertheless, given the patriarchal pecking order of domestic labour substitution, adult family members engage with and disengage from paid work at the cost of exacerbating gender inequalities for children. Mothers’ employment limits their time available for housework, which calls for domestic-labor substitution from children. Non-working fathers who deviate from the male-breadwinner norm may strive to “regain” their sense of masculinity by doing less housework, which again calls for substitution from children, particularly girls.

The reproduction of domestic gender inequalities at an early age has immediate and long-term implications for children’s future. Children’s gendered participation in domesticity may immediately impinge on their participation in other activities such as education, social engagement, leisure, etc. Moreover, gender ideologies and behaviours formed in childhood may have a long-lasting influence on children’s gender performance and work-family orientations in the long run.

The provision of domestic and care labour was subsumed under the danwei system and the productive sector before China’s economic reforms. In the post-reform era, unpaid domestic labour has become increasingly privatised and “re-familialised”. The resilience of the familial institution, including traditional family relations and the resurgence of traditional gender values, has been relied upon to offset the lack of welfare provision. Within the family, the presence of “intergenerational offloading” further illustrates the role played by Chinese children in absorbing the gendered consequences of the state-to-family transfer of domestic responsibilities.

To promulgate gender equality, it is insufficient to just consider changing social, economic, cultural and institutional configurations in the adult world. It is high time that we count children in, interrogate the ways in which gender inequalities are passed on, and break the intergenerational cycle that is responsible for reproducing such inequalities.

This article is based on the following research: ‘Gender and children’s housework time in China: Examining behavior modelling in context‘ and ‘Patriarchal hierarchy? Gender, children’s housework time, and family structure in post-reform China‘ (forthcoming). 

Transnational Family Justice in Migration Crises

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This event is part of The Sociological Review Seminar Series, co-organised by the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University and the School of Law, Middlesex University

Abstract submission deadline: May 26th, 2017
Event time: July 19th, 2017

Place: C219, Middlesex University, London NW4 4BT


Against the backdrop of Brexit and ongoing migration crises, this seminar aims to address the theme of transnational family justice – individuals’ experiences and the regulation, at the national and international level, of citizenship rights and claims in terms of transnational family and intimate relationships. It seeks to explore and advance debates on social dynamics, public discourses, social policies and lived experiences of migration, multiculturalism, and intimate citizenship among transnational families in Western Europe. Given the emergent nature of the context and foci of the seminar, we take a broad approach to the definition of transnational family justice to encourage open and constructive dialogues in a burgeoning field. The seminar will be built around, but is not limited to, the following sets of questions:

  • What are the prevalent public beliefs and social attitudes toward transnational families and intimate relationships?
  • What rationales underlie state regulations of transnational family relations in terms of immigration, employment, and family policies?
  • How do experiences of distinct migration trajectories, and particularly immigration policies and visa regimes, shape transnational intimate and family relationships?
  • How do transnational families’ experiences of intimate citizenship affect their well-being (mental, physical, socioeconomic, etc.) in their host societies?
  • How are transnational family justice systems sexualised and gendered? How may this affect the lived experiences of individuals of distinct gender and sexualities in different ways and potentially reinforce existing and create new gender inequalities in a transnational field?

Call for Papers
We invite papers that address the seminar’s core themes from postgraduate students, early-career and established scholars. Paper presentations will be approximately 20 minutes in length. Please email an abstract of up to 250 words to Yang Hu ( and Daniel Nehring ( and include your institutional affiliation and contact details.

We plan to publish a selection of quality papers from this event as a special issue in The Sociological Review. The deadline for the submission of
abstracts is May 26th, 2017.

Confirmed speakers include Professor Eleonore Kofman (Middlesex University), Professor Karen Broadhurst (Lancaster University), Professor Helena Wray (University of Exeter), Dr Daniel Nehring (Catholic University of Daegu, South Korea), Dr Hyun-Joo Lim (Bournemouth University), Dr Yang Hu (Lancaster University).

For more information about the event, please The Sociological Review event page: and follow us on Facebook

CfPs: Panel ‘Refugee Mobility and Integration’, BSPS 2017

As part of the BSPS 2017 Annual Conference to take place in Liverpool between September 6 to 8, I am organising a session on refugee migration and integration. The Call for Papers is now open!


Refugee mobility & integration

The ongoing refugee crisis, coupled with changing socioeconomic and political dynamics in the West (e.g. Brexit, tightening immigration policies, and rising xenophobic sentiments), presents fresh challenges to the mobility and integration of refugee migrants. This session will focus on the demographic patterns and dynamics of the refugee population, with a particular emphasis on refugees’ socio-cultural and economic integration in terms of access to education, employment, housing, health and welfare resources

Session organiser: Yang Hu (University of Lancaster)

Follow this LINK to view the BSPS conference website.

CfPs: Panel ‘Migration and the City’, ISA RC21 2017

I am organising (with Dr Daniel Nehring) a panel entitled ‘Migration and the City: Internal and International Dynamics in China’ at the upcoming annual conference of Research Council 21 of the International Sociological Association. The conference will take place between September 11 and 13, 2017 in Leeds (UK).


Submission guidelines

The proposed abstracts should address the sessions’ topics and should be inspired by the 2017 conference theme, ‘Rethinking Urban Global Justice’. Abstracts should be sent by e-mail to both and to Yang Hu ( and Daniel Nehring ( The deadline for abstract submission is 10 March 2017.

Abstract requirements

The abstracts should include the following information:

  • Details of the session to which the abstract is submitted: session title and session convenors.

  • The focus: Themes, underlying hypothesis, empirical and/or theoretical basis, structure of the paper.

  • Word count: 300-500 words.

  • The contact of the author(s): Name(s), affiliation(s), address (including postcode), a phone number (will not be made public) and an e-mail address.

Panel information

Urban China stands at the juncture of two cross-cutting strands of migration, namely internal and international. In 2015, Chinese cities hosted more than 160 million internal migrants and more than 30 million international migrants. This amounts to the largest ever non-wartime population mobility in the world. The rapid rise of both migratory flows to Chinese cities is closely embedded in drastic social, economic and cultural transformations in the past decades, in particular rapid and partial urbanisation and globalisation, segmented economic development, and fragmented cultural changes. Beneath the veneer of the astronomical figures, both internal and international migration to and out of urban China assume diverse forms, which encompass labour, family, environment, tourism and educational mobility. They also represent multifaceted experiences—personal and social, rational and emotional, economic and cultural, institutional and legal, local and global. Such experiences present fresh challenges to urban global justice, and they concern issues ranging from social inclusion and exclusion to welfare provision, and from social inequalities to intimate encounters. With an aim to encompass, showcase, compare, and bring into conversation the multiple forms and facets of migratory experiences in global urban China, this session will cover, but is not limited to, the following topics:

  • Diverse forms and experiences of global urban mobilities in China

  • Comparative focus on internal, regional and international dynamics

  • Migration and socio-cultural integration

  • Migration, rights, and citizenship

  • Gendered migratory experiences