Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Danièle Bélanger

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Ingrid Connidis

Joint Supervisor


As one of the most rapidly aging nations in the world, Taiwan is experiencing a growing demand for elder care labour. Limited state-funded care services combine with an ever-increasing number of dependent elderly members, to create a crisis of care that continues to be managed primarily by families. Although this is a culture where sons bear the primary filial responsibility in a patrilineal structure of filial care, daughters-in-law are often expected to provide significant levels of care to their parents-in-law when they require assistance. Women’s increased participation in the workforce since the 1980s, however, poses an additional challenge to families who are now trying to meet the competing demands of paid work and elder care. A growing number of families now seek care assistance by employing a foreign live-in care worker, an alternative that creates employment opportunities – with attendant costs – for women from less developed economies seeking to support their families. When working abroad as care workers, migrant women and their families also experience contradictory demands of meeting the economic and care needs of family members.
This thesis takes a multi-level approach that incorporates e life course, gender, class and transnational perspectives, and the concept of ambivalence to investigate a ‘dual’ family reality: how do Taiwanese families with dependent elders and Vietnamese foreign care workers and their families negotiate care arrangements and kinship ties when trying to meet the needs of family members, often in combination with paid work? Based on an ethnographic study in Taiwan from May to August 2009 and from November 2010 to April 2011, findings from intensive interviews with Taiwanese family members and Vietnamese care workers reveal multiple contexts of care negotiations. In Taiwan, sons, their wives (daughters-in-law to the elder) and their brothers and sisters work out their share of filial responsibility in the household and family context. When Taiwanese families employ Vietnamese care workers, the Taiwanese employers, their elder family members and extended family negotiate good care and a stable working relationship with their Vietnamese care workers in the context of domestic employment. Despite their physical absence, the Vietnamese women who are hired as care workers continue to work out multiple family care responsibilities as mothers, wives, daughters or daughters-in-law from afar.
This thesis reveals the phenomenon of the global care chains as an outcome of negotiating contradictory work, care and kinship ties in both Taiwanese and Vietnamese families over time. Cultural norms, class differences, changing gender relations, state policies, market forces, regional economic inequalities and labour migration provide relevant contexts for understanding how global care chains produce both continuity and change in the lives of family members in both geographical and transnational contexts.