Proceedings of The International Academic Conference on Research in Social Sciences
Socioeconomic Status and Family Structure: A Qualitative Investigation of Female Caregivers in Families Coping with Pneumoconiosis
Pneumoconiosis is the most prevalent occupational illness in China. In Chinese scholarship and media discourse, migrant workers with occupational illness are almost uniformly described as helpless and vulnerable. While this is true in many cases, this study calls attention to the roles of socioeconomic status and family structure in shaping the differential experiences of workers with pneumoconiosis and their female caregivers. Using qualitative interviews with 19 Pneumoconiosis patients from the Fujian, Shaanxi, and Henan Province in China and their family members, I show that socioeconomic status affects not only the type of medical treatment the individual patients can receive but also their wives’ coping strategies and attitudes towards the illness. Among pneumoconiosis patients with higher socioeconomic status, the patients optimistically await lung transplant surgeries, while their wives become bread-winners of the family and at the same time provide care for them. In families of less socioeconomic resources, however, husbands expect death and wives either remarry or become the only breadwinner. The latter group is also more likely to hold a pessimistic attitude toward death. This study extends the existing literature on occupational disease in China by highlighting the socioeconomic gradient in individual and family-level outcomes in the face of pneumoconiosis.
Keywords: Chinese workers; health outcomes; labour rights; occupational disease; Silicosis.