One Country, Multiple Stories – Women’s Work-life Balance in Rural and Urban China

Conference: The Asian Conference on the Social Sciences (ACSS2022)
Title: One Country, Multiple Stories – Women’s Work-life Balance in Rural and Urban China
Stream: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Yunyan Li, University of Bristol, United Kingdom


By drawing on 70 semi-structured interviews with women living in the urban and rural areas, this paper explores the support and challenge for women to achieve work-life balance. This paper has developed a holistic “human dignity” framework investigating women’s autonomy and mutuality at home, the workplace, and in a broader social context. With limited public assistance and social services in care provision, the younger generation continuously relies on financial and physical support from the older generation. Family supports have reinforced an ambiguous boundary between nuclear and extended family, implying a prolonged dependence on the older generations and more compromise for women to negotiate an independent household. Meanwhile, under Communist governance, the Chinese welfare system continuously produces the labour market divide in the public and private sectors. The labour market in the public sector still features better welfare benefits, employment stability, and regular working hours. Women in the private sector face more instability and uncertainty in guaranteeing their rights, which leads to higher possibilities of withdrawal from the labour market and more incompatibility between care responsibilities and career development. In both family and workplace, these transforming institutional and social dynamics have reshaped different forms of tensions and contradictions for women to achieve work-life balance and secure equal career development with social security. These findings portray the variations of women’s lived experiences in achieving work-life balance and highlight the disjuncture between transitional gender policy paradigms and everyday practices in contemporary China.

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