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Mental Health, Women

Despite Asia’s preference for a son, happiness in old age has everything to do with daughters

Monash University 2 mins read

Researchers from Monash University Malaysia’s Business School warn that the traditional preference for a son rather than a daughter, may worsen gender inequality in rapidly ageing Asian societies.

The paper Happiness in Old Age:The Daughter Connection published in the Journal of Happiness Studies outlines the unique demographic crisis Asia faces and confirms that although having a son is thought best, living with daughters brings greater happiness.

By 2030, Asia will have the largest elderly population in the world and while an ageing mother is seen as an unwanted burden in patriarchal Asia, concerns are growing over a new form of intergenerational inequality. 

Lead researcher Professor M. Niaz Asadullah, Professor of Development Economics at Monash University Malaysia, said more than half of the older population in the region is female, and many continue to suffer multiple forms of economic discrimination and social exclusion. All these culminate into feminisation of elderly poverty.

As elderly parents look to adult children for old age care, another form of gender bias in the supply of care is being created where sons are preferred to daughters. 

Research confirms that in Vietnam, most older people co-reside with a married son. Equally, in India, up to 79 per cent of older people live with sons compared with only 39 per cent that live with daughters. In Thailand, 29 and 32 per cent respectively of older persons live with sons and daughters. Whereas in China, only 4.8 per cent of fathers and 6.46 per cent of mothers choose to live with their daughters. 

“Our research in Thailand, an ageing Asian country with no legacy of sex selection in fertility, confirms that daughters can be just as valuable for parents in ageing societies. Compared with China and Vietnam, Thailand offers an interesting context in which one can reinvestigate the link between old-age happiness and children’s gender,” said Professor Asadullah.

The results show that living with daughters is associated with happiness in four ways:

 (i) an improvement in self-rated health (for older females)

 (ii) a reduction in loneliness (for both older males and females)

(iii) a reduction in emotional ill-being or worry for older females, in the case of daughters with a good relationship with their parents or a university education or higher

(iv) improvement in economic conditions in terms of income sufficiency in both older males and females, where a daughter has a university education or higher.

“Our findings have important policy implications for other rapidly ageing emerging Asian economies. They suggest that children’s human capital can have added social returns on the wellbeing of the elderly population.

“Policies that increase investment in female schooling are likely to have long-term effects on the wellbeing of older persons and ensure that demographic benefits are fully appreciated,” said Professor Asadullah.

About the paper

M. Niaz Asadullah, Professor of Development Economics at Monash University Malaysia, is Head of the Southeast Asia cluster of the Global Labor Organization. Pataporn Sukontamarn is an Associate Professor  at the College of Population Studies, Chulalongkorn University. Nopphawan Photphisutthiphong is a Lecturer at the College of Population Studies, Chulalongkorn University. Yen Thi Hai Nguyen is a Research Fellow at Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria.

Full citation: Sukontamarn, P., Asadullah, M.N., Photphisutthiphong, N. and Nguyen, Yen Thi Hai (2023) Happiness in Old Age: The Daughter Connection. Journal of Happiness Studies, 24, 1729–1757.


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