China Population and Development Studies

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 129–157 | Cite as

Dynamics of family households and elderly living arrangements in China, 1990–2010

  • Yi ZengEmail author
  • Zhenglian Wang
Original Article


This article presents analyses on dynamics of family households and elderly living arrangements in China mainly based on the micro data of 2010, 2000 and 1990 censuses. We demonstrate and discuss the trends and rural–urban differentials of largely declined household size, quickly increasing one-person and one-couple-only households, substantially increased proportions of elderly living alone or with spouse only. It is strikingly interesting that proportion of three-generation family households increased by 18.9% in rural area but decreased by 23.7% in urban areas in 2010 compared to 1990, due to rural–urban differences in demographic effects of large fertility decline and socioeconomic/attitude changes. We also present and discuss two interesting demographic phenomenon which were relatively overlooked in the literature. First, increase in number of households is much larger than population growth, due to shrinking of the household size and decomposition of larger families into smaller ones, and very much slowed-down population growth. Second, increases in numbers of elderly (especially oldest-old) who live alone or with spouse only are dramatically larger than the increase in the corresponding proportions, due to the effects of rapid population aging, while later and larger birth cohorts become old. Such trends have important implications for the analyses on the current and future market demands of the products and services, of which households are the consumption units. We recommend that the studies on home-based energy use and sustainable development should be based on analyses of family household dynamics rather than population growth.


Dynamics of family households Elderly living arrangements Shrinking household size Increasing number of households China 



This research is supported by National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (71490732).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Healthy Aging and Development Studies and Raissun Institute for Advanced Studies, National School of DevelopmentPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development and Geriatric Division of Medical School, Population Research InstituteDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Center for Population Health and Aging of Population Research Institute at Duke University, China Population and Development Research CenterBeijingChina

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