08.02.03. What are the social norms and traditions of family care? Are there gender roles associated with family care? | Hong Kong SAR

08.02.03. What are the social norms and traditions of family care? Are there gender roles associated with family care? | Hong Kong SAR

22 Aug 2022

Taking care of aged parents is still a social norm of family care in Hong Kong. In general, it can be observed that the traditional Confucian notion of filial piety as a cultural norm still runs deep even in this modern and highly developed city. This provides adults children a motivation to embark on the caregiving journey. Yet, two local studies (Lee, 2004; Wong & Chau, 2006) describe and articulate that the filial values in the context of elderly care in Hong Kong are different and evolving from the traditional ones. Other than filial values, the provision of care by an adult child is also determined by their living arrangements, geographical proximity, and quality of relationship with the aged parent. It turns out that daughter usually becomes the carer, instead of the eldest son who is supposed to have the largest responsibility to take care of parents according to the traditional filial values (Lee, 2004). Moreover, carers have adopted some aspects of the filial norm, but not all of it, to suit their own experiences and actual circumstances in their everyday caregiving practices. For instance, instead of blindly following the wish of their parents, carers would challenge their parents while having their own considerations and making decisions during care provision (Wong & Chau, 2006).

In Hong Kong, when an older adult becomes in need of care, either his/her spouse or at least one of the adult children, if any, would take up the role of primary carer. Owing to the limited size of residence, adult children often live in another household nearby, instead of living with the parents in need. Moreover, live-in foreign domestic helpers and formal community care services are often utilised to assist in household chores and daily care. Regarding gender roles, females are more likely to be family carers. A recent study conducted by the author research team in 2018 to evaluate the Dementia Community Support Scheme (Wong & Shi, 2020) provides some demographic information of family carers of people with dementia in the community. Among 1385 primary carers, 66% are females, 27% are spouse of the person with dementia, 65% are children and 4% are children-in-law. In line with other local studies on family care, daughter is the most common type of family carer in terms of relationship.

Despite the family values and beliefs that maintain the provision of family care, it is important to note that the family structure in Hong Kong is changing. Due to the decreasing marriage rate and fertility rate, Hong Kong will inevitably face the challenge of reduced capacity of family in the provision of elderly care. In other words, the number of older adults without support from younger family members are expected to increase in the future. In fact, such a trend is already observed from the recent statistics on living arrangements provided by the Census (Census and Statistics Department, 2018b). From 2006 to 2016, the proportion of older adults living alone increased from 11.6% to 13.1%, those living with spouse only increased from 21.2% to 25.2%; and the proportion of households with older adults only hiring domestics helpers increased from 7.1% to 13.2%.


Census and Statistics Department. (2018b). Hong Kong 2016 Population By-census – Thematic Report: Older Persons. Hong Kong Retrieved from https://www.bycensus2016.gov.hk/data/16BC_Older_persons_report.pdf

Lee, W. K.-m. (2004). Living arrangements and informal support for the elderly: Alteration to intergenerational relationships in Hong Kong. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 2(2), 27-49. https://doi.org/10.1300/J194v02n02_03

Wong, G. H.-Y., & Shi, C. (2020). Evaluation Study of the Dementia Community Support Scheme. Unpublished Manuscript. Department of Social Work and Social Adminstration. The Universtiy of Hong Kong. Hong Kong.

Wong, O., & Chau, B. (2006). The evolving role of filial piety in eldercare in Hong Kong. Asian Journal of Social Science, 34(4), 600-617. https://doi.org/10.1163/156853106778917790