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Abstract

This article uses data from censuses since 1982 to reveal changes in the family structure of rural China since the launch of reform and opening up and against the backdrop of institutional relocation, social transformation and an aging population. Since the advent of reform and opening up, rural family structure and its changes can be divided into two phases. Before the 1990s, the household contract responsibility system was implemented, labor in rural villages was still mainly engaged in farming, and the number of nuclear families remained stable with a steady rise. After the 1990s, as reform progress deepened, substantial numbers of young and middle-aged laborers in rural villages began to relocate into non-farming sectors and aging in rural villages rose. As those born in the early days of the family planning policy gradually matured, family structure was directly affected and changed in new ways and forms not seen before. Vocational divisions of labor among the parents of young families and married offspring emerged and the significance of cooperation for family economy and daily life between parents and offspring rose in importance. Also, the prevalence of immediate families with three generations climbed while the standard nuclear families declined, the ratio of middle-aged couples with young children that worked outside the home increased, the function of middle-aged and senior parents in the upbringing of infants and children enhanced, and the commonness of incomplete family types such as only grandparents with grandchildren increased. During this phase, the number of seniors living alone surged to the point of becoming a matter worthy of attention.

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