The relationship between external contact and unmarried adolescents' and young adults' traditional beliefs in three East Asian cities: a cross-sectional analysis

J Adolesc Health. 2012 Mar;50(3 Suppl):S4-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.12.011.


Purpose: There is growing contact with the outside world among adolescents and young adults in the three Asian cities of Hanoi, Vietnam, Shanghai, mainland China, and Taipei, Taiwan because of the open policies implemented by the national governments of each of these cities. Because these policies were enacted at different points in time, their concomitant social impact has not been simultaneous, with the result that these societies are at different stages of change. The goal of this current analysis is to examine the dimensions of external contact and respondents' departures from Confucian values-for example, embracing individualism, a woman's taking the initiative in expressing affection to a man, and permissiveness toward premarital sex-among unmarried adolescents and young adults in these three cities and the potential relationship between them. This will contribute to our understanding of contemporary Asian adolescents' and young adults' attitudes during different social transition periods, attitudes that are frequently contrary to traditional Confucian principles.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional study. The multicenter survey of 17,016 male and female adolescents and young adults aged 15-24 years from three cities with Confucian-influenced cultures-Shanghai, Hanoi, and Taipei-was conducted from May 2006 to January 2007 through face-to-face interviews coupled with computer-assisted self-interviews for sensitive questions; 16,554 unmarried respondents were included in this analysis. Binary logistic regression and general linear models were used to explore the associations between respondents' external contact and their nontraditional attitudes. All the analyses were done through SAS 9.1.

Results: There were significant differences in the positive association between respondents' external contact and non-Confucian values among adolescents in the three cities. More respondents in Taipei and Shanghai had external contact and identified with nontraditional values than those in Hanoi. The percentages of respondents reporting non-Confucian values were the highest in Taipei and the lowest in Hanoi. The analysis presented significant associations between respondents' exposure to Western culture and their adoption of nontraditional values across the three cities. Respondents who spoke Western languages and who preferred Western videos/actors/singers were more likely to exhibit Western individualism, concurrence with women taking the initiative in a romantic relationship with a man, and permissiveness toward premarital sexual behavior.

Conclusions: Although these Asian cities are at different stages of social transition, exposure to Western culture is associated with unmarried adolescents' and young adults' departure from traditional Confucian social rules in all three.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Asia
  • Cities*
  • Confucianism
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Single Person*
  • Social Change*
  • Young Adult