Religion, gender, and family relations in Taiwan

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Zhai, Jiexia, 1978-

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Numerous studies show that religion has a strong association with gender role attitudes and family ideology in the U.S. Some religious traditions have fostered changes toward modern gender ideologies and others resisted. However, most studies are limited to Judeo-Christian contexts. It is not clear whether these patterns apply to societies where other religious traditions have been dominant or where gender issues are different -- for example in a Confucian society like Taiwan. The goal of this study is to understand the role of religion in gender and family relations in Chinese societies -- particularly marital gender roles, educational aspirations, and abortion attitudes and decisions. I utilize two large scale nationally representative surveys: the Taiwan Social Change Survey and the Knowledge of, Attitudes toward, and the Practice of Contraception Survey. My research shows that religion is significantly associated with gender roles and family relations in Taiwan. After controlling socio-demographic factors, conservative religious groups such as Taiwan Protestants and Yi-Guan-Dao members are more likely to support traditional gender role ideologies. They view women's fulltime work outside of the home as a negative influence on children and family life and are more likely to support a traditional men-as-breadwinner women-as-home-maker division of labor, compared with Chinese traditional religionists and secular people. Catholics tend to hold more liberal views that encourage men's participation in housework and both spouses' contribution to family finance. On abortion attitudes, both devout Christians and Yi-Guan-Dao members tend to strongly oppose abortion compared with Chinese traditional religionists and secular groups; however, there is no significant association between religion and either timing of abortion or patterns of abortion. Nominal Christians actually reported slightly higher number of abortions than other groups. Finally, there is no significant gender gap between the educational aspirations for boy and girl of different religious groups; the difference is in overall educational aspirations. Taiwanese Protestants show the highest aspirations and Yi-Guan-Dao members the lowest. Catholics and Chinese religionists are in the middle and do not have significant differences in their educational attitudes. Qualitative interviews with knowledgeable Taiwanese informants strengthens these arguments and helps explain mechanisms for the religion-family associations.