TOP > Papers & Essays > Parenting > Basic Survey on Young Children's Daily Lives and Parents' Childrearing in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei - 2. Summary Overview in Comparative Perspective

Papers & Essays

Basic Survey on Young Children's Daily Lives and Parents' Childrearing in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei - 2. Summary Overview in Comparative Perspective

*This article is a perspective of an external researcher for CRN based on the evidences found in "Questionnaire on Daily Life of Children in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei."
In this first article of the series, I introduce survey results on children's daily life as well as mother's childrearing styles and attitudes in five cities of East Asia; Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei. In particular, I attempt to capture how parenting styles and cultural beliefs in each city, often lumped together and characterized by Confucius tradition, have accommodated the respective internal challenges (e.g., change in family structure) as well as external influences of western values and ideas on their own terms.

First, I outline the socio-cultural background of the region. Next, I excerpt the survey findings on children's daily life and mother's childrearing perspectives, followed by a discussion of these findings and suggestions for future research.

Socio-cultural background
East Asia is part of the Confucian cultural sphere, where people place great value on social and human relationships (e.g., filial piety) and education (e.g., the importance of acquiring knowledge). Such a common background is often used to explain the region's academic competition, education-obsessed parents, and children under pressure.

Although each city has taken different path in the modern period, all five cities now face similar challenges amid the globalization of economy, culture, and society. The influx of western values and ideas, including scientifically tested "developmentally appropriate practices," together with women's social advancement, a falling birth rate, and change in family structure have had a profound impact on the daily life of young children and their parents in those urban cities. Now, TV, video (or DVD/VCD) and computers are found in many homes. Not only is compulsory education a fact of life for most children, but a majority of young children attend some kind of early childhood institution.

So, how do urban children of today spend the day? What sorts of childrearing practices do mothers uphold? Do mothers have high expectations for their children's academic success? What kinds of characteristic attributes do parents hope to instill in their children? How do mothers feel about their own childrearing experiences?
In the following, I excerpt the survey findings to answer these questions.

Summary findings
Brief profile of the families in the sample
In the sample, the one-child family is predominant in Beijing (68.8%) and Shanghai (71.9%); the respective percentages are 28.4% in Tokyo, 22.6% in Seoul, and 28.8% in Taipei, and about 60-65% of families in these three cities have two children. Over half the families are nuclear families in all five cities: Tokyo 81.0%, Seoul 71.1%, Beijing 51.5%, Shanghai 52.1%, and Taipei 55.2%. Both mothers and fathers tend to work outside of home in the three Chinese culture cities, while the majority of mothers are full-time mothers in Tokyo and Seoul (full-time mothers: Tokyo 68%, Seoul 50.8%, Beijing 5.0%, Shanghai 9.9%, Taipei 23%). Most mothers and fathers are in their 30s and 40s in all five cities.

The daily life of young children.
There are more similarities than differences in the daily life of young children in all five cities. Most children get up around 7 to 8 am, and go to bed between 8:30 and 10:30 pm. Due to differences in the mother's employment status, the length of time that children spend in early childhood institutions varies. This time tends to be longer for children in the three Chinese culture cities, from early morning to the evening, and shorter for children in Seoul and Tokyo.

Over half the children in all age groups are engaged in some extracurricular activity over the weekend and/or after regular activities at early childhood institutions; the participation rate is higher for older children (e.g., three out of four children in case of six-year-olds). The most popular areas of activities vary depending on the city; art classes in the three Chinese culture cities (Beijing 43.4 %, Shanghai 63.2%, Taipei 34.8%); sports classes in Tokyo (39.0%); educational learning classes in Seoul (58.6%).

Most children watch TV almost everyday (everyday or at least three to four times a week): Tokyo, 97.6%; Seoul, 89.3%; Beijing, 86.3%; Shanghai, 76.6%; Taipei, 86.2%. Picture books are also popular; approximately 70 to 80% of children enjoy picture books everyday or at least three to four times a week. Computer use varies in each city; the number of children who use it more than once a week is the highest in Seoul (61.3 %), followed by Taipei (33.3%), Shanghai (29.7%), Beijing (26.7%) and Tokyo (14.1%).

Mothers perspectives/beliefs on childrearing and education
Mothers were asked to choose one answer over the other on their perspectives or beliefs on childrearing as well as education.

Perspectives on childrearing and parenting
When asked whether the mother's constant presence was important for children until age three, a majority of mothers agreed (Tokyo 63.4%, Seoul 74.9%, Beijing 67.9%, Shanghai 63.9%, Taipei 54.6%) as opposed to the alterative statement "the amount of time spent with children does not matter so long as mothers care for children with love"). The percentage is higher in Tokyo and Seoul where we find more full-time mothers among the respondents. Also, about 50% to 70% of the mothers (Tokyo 64.4%, Seoul 52.7%, Beijing 70.9%, Shanghai 69.0%, Taipei 60.4%) feel their own life pursuits are as important as childrearing responsibilities.

Regarding child discipline, there is a significant difference between mothers in Seoul and the other cities; the former are apt to scold children strictly when they misbehave (68.1%) while the others opt to talk to children gently until they understand what is wrong with their behavior (Tokyo 70.2%, Beijing 92.2%, Shanghai 90.2%, Taipei 86.8%).

Perspectives on education
Approximately 90 % of the mothers answer that children can acquire any type of competency/ability depending on their environment, rather than believing in inborn aptitude; over 50% of the mothers (Tokyo 86.2%, Seoul 85.2%, Beijing 69.3%, Shanghai 66.0%, Taipei 56.3%) believe it is better that children learn letters and numbers once they get interested in them as opposed to teaching letters and numbers as early as possible. Similarly, more than half the mothers (Tokyo 71.4%, Seoul 71.8%, Beijing 69.7%, Shanghai 66.2%, Taipei, 54.5%) answer that parents should give priority to children's own initiative in educational pursuits rather than imposing parental judgment.

Mothers' Expectations for their children
Expectations for children's academic attainment
In contrast to the results on educational beliefs, which show some degree of uniformity, the answers related to the expectations for children's academic attainment vary among the five cities; more than 70 % of mothers in Shanghai and Beijing want their children to go to a prestigious university in contrast to 26.7 % in Tokyo, 41.2% in Seoul, and 34.3% in Taipei. Similarly, in response to a question on prospective education level, approximately two-thirds of mothers in Tokyo answer that their children will complete university but the other mothers expect more (Figure 2-4-1). In fact, quite a few mothers in the three Chinese culture cities expect children to proceed to graduate education (Beijing 71.5%, Shanghai 56.3%, Taipei 61.6%), and the respective figure is 46% in case of Seoul.

Expectations toward children' characteristics
Mothers were asked to choose three most favorable characteristics out of ten that they wanted for their children (Figure 2-2-1). In all five cities, "a person who cares about family" is seen as an important characteristic (Tokyo 69.7%, Seoul 69.2%, Beijing 71.8%, Shanghai 75.7%, Taipei 84.1%). But other desirable characteristic attributes vary significantly depending on the city. In Tokyo, mothers chose attributes related to social skills (e.g., "a person who cares about friends," 74.5%; "a person who does not trouble others, 71.0%" are favored. In Seoul, "a person with leadership" scores second (46.8%) followed by "a person who leads stress-free life (32.2%)." In Beijing and Shanghai, "a person who can fully exercise one's competency and aptitude at work (Beijing 46.9% , Shanghai 39.0%)" and "a person who is respected by others (Beijing 45.5%, Shanghai 43%)" rank relatively high. In Taipei, "a person who can fully exercise one's competency and aptitude at work" scores second (48.9%) followed by "a person who contributes to the society (26.7%)."

Mothers' sentiments on their own childrearing and parenting
All in all, most mothers display positive feelings about their childrearing experiences. For instance, more than 70% of the mothers in all five cities always or frequently feel the following: 1) my child is adorable/irresistible, 2) I feel joy and blessed to raise a child, 3) it is fun to play with a child, 4) I am also growing through childrearing, and 5) I am doing a good job in childrearing. Likewise, over 90% of mothers in all five cities answer that they are very/relatively content with their children's growth.

Meanwhile, mothers also exhibit some ambivalent feelings associated with childrearing. For instance, over half the mothers in all five cities always or frequently feel the following: 1) I am worried that my child will continue to grow in this way (Tokyo, 67.3%; Seoul, 76.0%; Beijing, 53.8%; Shanghai, 50.5%; Taipei, 71.7%), 2) I often don't know what to do with my child (Tokyo, 60.2%; Seoul, 70.5%; Beijing, 73.5%; Shanghai, 64.4%;, Taipei, 63.6%). Other notable findings indicate that 63.1% of mothers in Seoul have a feeling of sacrificing themselves for their children, while those of other cities remain low (Tokyo, 35.1%; Beijing, 20.2%; Shanghai, 26.0%; Taipei, 40.1%).

Though we did not see much variation in children's daily lives, there are similarities as well as differences in parents' childrearing styles and attitudes.

Some of the traditional beliefs and perceptions, presumably derived from Confucian teachings, are still persistent throughout the region. For instance, the majority of mothers believe competency depends on the environment rather than on innate ability. Also, mothers in all five cities place priority on the child becoming "a person who values one's own family" and see this as an important characteristic to be instilled, and strongly believe in the importance of mothers' presence in children's first three years. Finally, though bewildered by childrearing experiences to some extent, the majority of mothers enjoy parenting.

Although we usually only hear about one type of East Asian mother who is fanatic about her children's educational and work success, there are variations among them. Relatively speaking, mothers' childrearing perceptions and attitudes are similar among the three Chinese culture cities (i.e., Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei) in contrast to Tokyo and Seoul, both of which reveal divergent results.

In Tokyo, mothers have comparatively lax attitudes toward the early education, fewer aspirations for children's education, and place more emphasis on their children's social skills.

In Seoul, mothers consider their childcare responsibilities to be heavier burden than other mothers in the survey (i.e., importance of mothers until children reaches at age three, feeling of jeopardizing their own life pursuit for the sake of children). Also, a majority prefer to use a stricter form of discipline to deal with their children's misbehavior.

In three Chinese culture cities, mothers place great importance on children's academic and career success. Most mothers expect their children to proceed to graduate school. Furthermore, mothers in Shanghai and Beijing expect their children to go to topnotch universities.

The comparative survey in five metropolises of East Asia, the first of this kind, provides us with a great deal of insights into the daily life of young children and their mothers' childrearing styles. For instance, though young children of these regions may live under the tight schedule because their parents enroll them in extra-curricular activities, it is not only academic subjects that they are engaged in. By the same token, there is limited evidence to support the existence of education obsessed mothers who devote themselves to their children's academic and career success from an early age.

In sum, there is diversity in mothers' attitudes on childrearing and education among five metropolises in accordance with the changing realities of each city. Concomitantly, the survey indicates that these attitudes are underpinned by traditional beliefs that are compatible with the existing reality (the importance of education and family) and the enjoyment of motherhood (appreciating a child as a source of joy and fulfillment).

Agenda for future Research
It is beyond the scope of this paper to further analyze the findings to draw a significant conclusion, considering the limitation of the study (i.e., different sampling methodology, treating early childhood institution as black box), as well as the different political, economical and social situations that each city faces.

However, the vested interests in each city and nation have a lot to learn from one another by further studying the particular results for suggestions on how to resolve social concerns. Finally, it is intriguing to see compatible survey results from other regions of the world as globalization proceeds faster than ever. We may find more similarities than differences in fundamental beliefs about family, education, and parenting styles among parents in contemporary urban cities of the world.
Write a comment

*CRN reserves the right to post only those comments that abide by the terms of use of the website.


Japan Today

CRN Child Science Exchange Program in Asia

About CRN

About Child Science


Honorary Director's Blog