The "Silent Reserves" of the Patriarchal Chinese Welfare System : Women as "Hidden" Contributors to Chinese Social Policy

Scholars of social inequality in China have commonly concentrated on strata-related social welfare systems that divide the population into urban and rural dwellers, and additionally, into different welfare classes such as civil servants, employees, and migrant workers. Following Esping-Andersen, Siaroff, Sainsbury, and others, this paper brings the perspective of "gendering welfare" into the study of Chinese social policy. Focusing upon two major social policy branches in China-the old age pension insurance system and care services within the household-it discusses the role of Chinese women in these two fields. Through a gender-sensitive analysis, this paper elaborates the social phenomenon of "silent reserves" (namely, women) within the Chinese welfare regime. While women assume a crucial role in intrafamily care services, constituting the chief contributors of long-term care and childcare, their care contributions at home are not recognized as "social achievements" and are not monetarily compensated by the patriarchal Chinese welfare state. In addition, this paper argues that women are systematically disadvantaged by pension insurance arrangements. Furthermore, the individualization of care services in the intrafamily context weakens the pension entitlements of women, since their unpaid care constrains their ability to maintain full-time jobs in the labor market.


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