“Cinderella Men”: Husband- and Son- Caregivers for Elders with Dementia in Shanghai

Yan Zhang


Traditionally, women had the day-to-day responsibility for eldercare. However, social changes have created alternatives for men to take on what is generally considered a “female duty.” Particularly, as the prevalence of dementia has increased in China, men are increasingly becoming the primary caregivers for their kin. Yet, we have limited understanding of male caregiving. Based on twenty months’ ethnographic study of 60 men taking care of a relative with dementia, this paper examines motivations, practices, struggles and strategies of male caregivers. While acknowledging the gendered nature of caregiving, I argue that eldercare goes beyond solely social construction of gender roles and power asymmetries between males and females. Men—both husbands and sons—who engage in caregiving are motivated by love, affection, moral obligation, reciprocity based on past assistance, and property inheritance. Male caregivers’ care practices and their responses toward challenges vary from case to case, yet, these differences have less association with gender identity but more with cohort variations. The expanding home roles of male caregivers call attention to the social transformation of gendered care practices in China and beyond.


gender roles; men; caregiving; dementia; China

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/aa.2021.356


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