China has the world’s second largest child population at 309 million, accounting for 24 percent of the country’s population. This is the very first study to develop a descriptive understanding of children's well-being in contemporary China. Given the increasing income disparity facing the country, these findings can help us understand the factors that promote and inhibit children’s optimal healthy development and have implications for the future of China's society.
This study is the first research endeavor for the NYU-ECNU Institute for Social Development at NYU Shanghai. Established in 2013, the Institute aims to produces high quality social scientific research as well as scientifically informed research to help shape practice and policy responses that will improve the well-being of society in both China and the United States. An essential mission of this research institute is to apply both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives to address the issues of poverty and inequality experienced by both countries but that manifest in unique ways in each.
We started our effort with a pilot study in Shanghai, China, with approximately 2,200 first-grade children (with an average age of seven). We are planning to collect longitudinal information on these 2,200 children during their elementary school years (to fifth grade). In the medium- and long-term, the Institute would like to develop a depository to house cutting-edge scholarly research on the well-being of children to inform public policy-making. In future years, we plan to expand our data collection to the other parts of China and Asia that have large number of Chinese (e.g., Hong Kong, Taiwan), and we also hope that many research institutes sharing the same interests of ours will join in this endeavor in understanding the protective and risk factors as well as the mechanisms and contexts that contribute to children's positive development.
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The Big Picture
Our 2,200 first-grade children were reported to have healthy social and emotional well-being and an average or above average academic performance, but boys and children from low-income families or rural hukou status families had somewhat worse well-being. In addition, these 2,200 children tended to be in good health, but a noticeable proportion of them were considered to be overweight or obese, and this may be particularly true for boys and children from top-income families.
In understanding the contexts for which these children were growing up, we looked at their family and school environments, two contexts considered the most important in young children’s life. In general, our 2,200 first-grade children were raised in a family with happily married parents in their mid-thirties who are gainfully employed, but with long weekly working hours. Their annual family income put our children right at about middle-income status both objectively and subjectively. Our parents viewed their children in a positive light and provided nurturing parenting behavior. Not surprisingly, academic learning was emphasized for this generation of children. Homework was reported for every school day; in addition, a good proportion of children attended many extracurricular activities (e.g., tutors on academic subjects, sports, drawing, dance, and piano lessons). Parents hold very high educational expectations for their children (e.g., achieve master’s degree or above). And parents ensured to attend every parent-teacher conference that was called for by the school.
Children tended to attend schools with a large student body that are served by educated and experienced school administrators and teachers who strive to provide an academically rigorous curriculum. Schools also provided many services to their students and families during the school year as well as during summer break. Most of the schools were equipped with adequate facilities in terms of classrooms, libraries, and computer rooms. In contrast, most of the schools did not have facilities such as auditoriums, gymnasiums, or multi-purpose function rooms. Both school administrators and classroom teachers agreed they provided a positive school environment and learning environment for both the teachers and students to learn and grow everyday. Our teachers were very satisfied with their current teaching career.
In spring 2014, from March 1 to May 1, we sampled seven districts out of 17 districts in Shanghai, China. The selection of these specific seven districts was to ensure the data would cover families from various socioeconomic status as well as children from migrant families. We sampled 1-5 schools from each of the seven districts with a total of 17 schools and 73 classrooms. Questionnaires were disseminated to school administrators, first-grade classroom teachers, and parents of children in the selected first-grade classrooms. Questionnaires for the school administrators and classroom teachers were distributed personally by the principal investigator, Wen-Jui Han, who also explained the purpose of the research projects and the format in filling out the questionnaires. Questionnaires for the parents were distributed by classroom teachers due to culture and privacy concerns. Some schools provided permission for the project team to meet with parents on their parent-teacher conference day, and thus some of the questionnaires to parents were distributed by the research team on those days. Parental questionnaires were then all collected by the classroom teachers at a later time and then collected by the research project team.
Download a copy of the study
- Siegel, J., & Han, W-J., (2016). Parenting and Child Wellbeing in Trauma-Exposed Families in China. Paper to be presented at the 2016 Annual Conference of Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR), Washington D.C., USA, Jan 13-17, 2016.
- Martinson, M.L., Chang, Y-L., Han, W-J., & Wen, J. (2016). Child Overweight and Obesity in Shanghai, China: Contextualizing Chinese Patterns and Social Determinants. Paper to be presented at the 2016 Annual Conference of Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR), Washington D.C., USA, Jan 13-17, 2016.
- Martinson, M.L., Chang, Y-L, Han, W-J., & Wen, J. (2015). Social Determinants of childhood obesity in Shanghai, China. Paper presented at The Lancet-CAMS Health Summit, Beijing, China, Oct 30-31, 2015.
- Rarick, J., Han, W-J., & Wen, J. (2015). Socioeconomic status, subjective social status, and parenting practices in Shanghai, China. Paper presented at the Biennial Conference o the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), March 19-21, Philadelphia, PA.
- Cherng, H-Y., & Han, W-J. (2015). Teacher relationships with urban and rural migrant youth in China. Paper presented at the 59th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES), March 8-13, Washington, D.C..