Vietnam is one of the Asian countries influenced by Confucianism and its espousal of filial piety (Shwalb et al., 2009). Filial piety is the first of the ‘hundred virtues’ (Đào, 1938/2021) and sets a standard that guides behavior in intergenerational relationships, helping to ensure the appropriate development of the family when parents become older. Filial piety is a concept in Confucian culture according to which the attitudes and behaviors of the younger generation toward their parents are stipulated (Yeh & Bedford, 2003). Key features of Confucian norms include a requirement for sons and daughters to respect, help, and take care of their parents, to provide them with emotional and material support, and to fulfill ceremonial duties of ancestral worship (as cited in Sun et al., 2016). Filial piety specifies moral norms that encompass material and emotional aspects of the parent-child relationship. It comprises an upper component representing age and a lower component representing child, indicating that the child supports and succeeds the parent (Bedford & Yeh, 2019). On the other hand, it may also suggest that the younger generation is covered or protected by the older generation. It is possibly a reciprocal relation, as a Vietnamese proverb states: “The young rely on the father; the elderly rely on the children” (“Trẻ cậy cha, già cậy con”). This idiom expresses the idea that children are taken care of by parents and the aged parents are taken care of by children, and it is a reciprocal process. The word “father” in this situation means both parents – father and mother. This interdependence promotes psychological security between the older and younger generations, while also fostering a strong, coherent, and durable family (Shwalb et al., 2009).

It can be seen that the concept of filial piety is more focused on the side of the elderly. In a country with rudimentary welfare infrastructure, especially in rural areas where a large number of elderly people live with little savings or pension, it is vital, and morally fair, that “the elderly rely on the children” and “the young rely on the father”. This seems to be a survival strategy that has existed for thousands of years. The family in this case plays the role of a welfare provider for the family members, especially the aged parents and/or grandparents. In recent years, filial piety has often been construed on two dimensions, authoritarian filial piety (AFP) and reciprocal filial piety (RFP). RFP develops out of genuine affection for, and long-term positive daily interaction with, one’s parents. It is rooted in intimacy and the quality of the parent-child relationship. AFP, on the other hand, is guided by obedience to obligations engendered by the roles within the family hierarchy. AFP entails suppressing one’s own wishes to comply with one’s parents’ wishes due to their seniority (Bedford & Yeh, 2019). Several recent studies (Chen, 2014; Chen et al., 2016; Yeh & Bedford, 2003, 2004) have addressed this second dimension in modern society. RFP depends on interpersonal relatedness, while AFP requires social belonging and collective identity. This distinction has been shown to have implications for social adaptation and individuals’ psychological functioning (Truong et al., 2020).


According to the APA dictionary of psychology (Van den Bos, 2015), “family is a kinship unit consisting of a group of individuals united by blood or by marital, adoptive, or other intimate ties” (p. 410); “happiness is an emotion of joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being” (p. 482). Therefore, family happiness is a state of satisfaction and well-being of members in the family. The family is among the most important groups to which we belong, and is a basic social institution in all cultures. Data obtained from the World Values Survey (WVS, 2022) confirmed that of six aspects of life (family, friends, leisure time, politics, work, and religion) family was rated as the most important in all 108 countries/territories taking part in the survey. Recent studies have agreed that “perceived happiness is a multidimensional structure, including many aspects: subjective, psychological and social. In turn, each of these dimensions is also multidimensional” (Negovan, 2010, p. 86). Happiness in the family requires harmony, peace, and balance between the individual and other members. This is the happiness of integration and interdependence. If one person’s happiness leads to the dissatisfaction or unhappiness of others in the family, his happiness will be reduced and incomplete. Kitayama et al. (2006) demonstrated that the happiness of American students is strongly correlated with personal emotions (e.g. pride), while the happiness of Japanese students was more strongly correlated with interpersonal emotions (such as being kind to others). In studies of family happiness, concepts and scales are often derived from individual happiness. Krys and colleagues (2019) claim that family happiness is most often studied from the perspective of a single family member, as for example with the studies by Diener and Lucas (1999) and Ryff and Keyes (1995). Happiness in this case is what people seek and achieve through interdependence, rather than independence. Interdependent happiness can be described as a relationship-oriented state of harmony, which achieves a balance between the individual and significant others. Interdependent happiness is the “global, subjective assessment of whether one is interpersonally harmonized with other people, being quiescent, and being ordinary, and connected to the collective way of well-being” (Hitokoto & Uchida, 2015, p. 7). Hence, it is necessary to study happiness in terms of interdependence as well as in interrelation with filial piety.


There is long standing research on filial piety and family happiness. Reviewing studies in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, Yeh and Bedford (2003) found that filial piety promotes peaceful relationships, harmony, love, and intergenerational attachment in nuclear as well as extended families. Lu (2013) argued that children receive a number of benefits from filial piety, including the inheritance of property, good social relationships, as well as lessons learnt, and experiences gained, from their parents. However, filial piety has also been shown to have negative influences such as limiting independence and creativity, generating excessive and unrealistic expectations, and making people docile and submissive (Sun et al., 2016). Furthermore, it increases the feeling of the elderly that they are living “on help” and too dependent on their children (Ang & Malhotra, 2022).

Regarding interactions of dual filial piety and family happiness, the research of Sun et al. (2019) on high school students showed that RFP can positively predict life satisfaction. Here there are two moderating variables: independent relational individuality and interdependence. On the other hand, AFP has a negative impact on life satisfaction when individual independence is moderated. Yan and Chen (2018) focused on studying the relation between filial piety and life satisfaction of 481 Taiwanese college students and confirmed that both RFP and AFP had a positive association with life satisfaction. Research by Guo et al. (2022) on middle school students and their parents about the relationship between RFP and AFP showed that RFP was positively correlated with school achievement. On the other hand, AFP was found to be negatively correlated with academic achievement, but not correlated with children’s perceived happiness. Continuing on this topic, Pan and Tang’s (2021) study of a sample of middle school children in China found that both RFP and AFP contributed to depressive symptoms, but in two different directions. RFP could directly limit symptoms of depression in teenagers. RFP also indirectly promoted the development of independence and cognitive autonomy, and limited learning pressure in adolescents. In contrast, AFP contributed to depressive symptoms by limiting the development of cognitive independence and increasing study pressure.

Recently, Różycka-Tran and colleagues (2021) studied 300 students in Vietnam and Poland and found that general filial piety was correlated with academic satisfaction in both countries. However, only RFP was positively correlated and predictive of engagement in study and academic satisfaction in people who belonged to the individualistic culture (Polish). Meanwhile, AFP was found to be a predictor of engagement in study among students from the collectivistic culture (Vietnamese). Guo and colleagues (2023) examined the relations between Chinese students’ filial piety beliefs and mathematics procrastination in 1476 primary school students in China and revealed that students’ RFP and AFP beliefs were positively related to academic enjoyment and anxiety, respectively. That same positive correlation was also found for Chinese Americans (Liu et al., 2018); in reduced symptoms of depression amongst adults (Li & Dong, 2018); and as a factor that protects parents from loneliness (Dong et al., 2016). These studies revealed the impact, in two different directions, on happiness from the two models of filial piety: RFP has a positive effect, and AFP has a negative impact on family happiness. In addition, both aspects of filial piety can coexist (although one dimension may be dominant) and have an interactive impact on family happiness.

Considering previous studies, we can see that the majority of studies of dual filial piety and its relationship with life satisfaction and/or well-being are carried out on samples of students rather than adult children. College students are often dependent on their parents for tuition fees and living allowance, while mid-life adults simultaneously raise dependent children and care for frail elderly parents. They are the sandwich generation and in a pivotal position to meet the demands of both younger and older generations. Logically and as suggested by Hitokoto and Uchida (2015), in a collectivist culture like Vietnam, interdependent happiness would be focused and examined. Furthermore, the relationship between dual filial piety and interdependent happiness in the family also needs to be clarified.

This study attempted to examine three questions:

  1. How is the dual filial piety expressed by adult children in Vietnam?

  2. How is the family happiness perceived by adult children?

  3. Is there a relationship between the two variables – filial piety and interdependent happiness?



Participants were selected from Hanoi and Thua Thien-Hue cities controlling for basic factors related to filial piety, namely rural-urban, occupation, living standard, and religion. We chose Hanoi because this has been the country’s capital for a thousand years, and it is the cultural center of the Red River Delta region where many Vietnamese values are preserved together with absorption of cultural values from China and India. Thua Thien-Hue was the former capital of Vietnam, where traditional cultural values and hierarchies in the family are still upheld and adhered to. Furthermore, traditional family values (including filial piety) may be preserved more strongly in rural areas. Hanoi and Hue are both big cities in Vietnam; however, these two cities have a fairly equal ratio of rural to urban areas. Therefore, it is possible to generalize the results from these two survey areas.


The participants were 385 adult children, comprising 185 men (48.3%) and 198 women (51.7%) with an average age of 40.4 years.

The study was approved by two committees (at the Institute of Psychology and the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences) regarding funding, content, and ethical aspects. To conduct the survey, the commune authorities were contacted and requested to approve the meeting between researchers and participants. During the survey, some residential areas were still implementing restrictions due to COVID-19; we therefore asked collaborators living in the study area to support the survey. All participants were asked for agreement to answer the questionnaire.


Dual Filial Piety Scale (DFPS). The Dual Filial Piety Scale (DFPS), developed by Yeh and Bedford (2003), was used to measure filial piety as it is the most widely used scale in filial piety studies (Shi & Wang, 2019, p. 2). It consists of two components, RFP with 8 items, and AFP with 8 items, giving a 16-item Likert five-point scale, examples of which are “Let my parents manage my income before I get married” or “Support my parents’ livelihood to make their life more comfortable”. The scale used in this study was adapted by a group of Vietnamese and Polish psychologists using a sample of Vietnamese students (Truong et al., 2020).

The DFPS was measured on the group of mature offspring. Cronbach’s α = .89, within which Cronbach’s alpha for the RFP subscale = .92 and for the AFP subscale = .89. The results of corrected item – total correlation of all items is above .30, with the smallest index value being .34 (item 15).

Factor analysis was carried out. The first time, items were divided into two clusters each with robust coefficients, with the exception of item 16 (“Live with my parents [or parents-in-law] when married”). The second time, factor analysis was conducted with 15 items. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of .92, means that the sample to collect data was adequate. Meanwhile, Bartlett’s test of sphericity was statistically significant, with p = .001. Therefore, factor analysis is appropriate. The results are presented in Table 1.

Table 1

Rotated factor matrix

Factor 1Factor 2
1. Be frequently concerned about my parents’ health conditions.814
2. Talk frequently with my parents to understand their thoughts and feelings.795
3. Be frequently concerned about my parents’ general wellbeing.864
4. Be concerned about my parents as well as understand them.824
5. Support my parents’ livelihood to make their life more comfortable.824
6. Be grateful to my parents for raising me.800
7. Hurry home upon the death of my parents, regardless of how far away I am.703
8. Take the initiative to assist my parents when they are busy.713
9. Take my parents’ suggestions even when I do not agree with them.737
10. Let my income be handled by my parents before marriage.746
11. Disregard promises to friends in order to obey my parents.754
12. Give up my aspirations to meet my parents’ expectations.846
13. Do whatever my parents ask right away.830
14. Avoid getting married to someone my parents dislike.813
15. Have at least one son for the succession of the family name.648

Interdependent Happiness Scale (IHS). The scale that was designed by Hitokoto and Uchida (2015) includes 9 items, an example of which is “I believe that my family and those around me are happy”. The IHS is constructed on the assumption that there is a difference between more individualistic cultures and more collective cultures which promote the development of interdependence between people. Each item has a 5-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The IHS was chosen and translated into Vietnamese, then it was back-translated into English to ensure its appropriateness. The back-translation of the HIS was performed by two bilinguals who had studied abroad for 3 years and were blind to the study questions. This scale has good reliability and validity in samples from certain countries, such as Japan and the United States (Hitokoto & Uchida, 2015). For this study Cronbach’s α for the IHS is .93.



Results of the two sub-scales (see Table 2) show that RFP is at a high level (M = 4.59), while AFP is at a lower level (M = 3.34). These two sub-scales are correlated (r = .38), p < .001 (two-tailed).

Table 2

Filial piety of adult children

ItemsMin-MaxM (SD)95% CI
1. Be frequently concerned about my parents’ health condition1.00-5.004.75 (0.54)[4.69;4.80]
2. Talk frequently with my parents to understand their thoughts and feelings2.00-5.004.45 (0.77)[4.37;4.54]
3. Be frequently concerned about my parents’ general well-being1.00-5.004.66 (0.62)[4.58;4.71]
4. Be concerned about my parents as well as understand them1.00-5.004.54 (0.68)[4.46;4.60]
5. Support my parents’ livelihood to make their life more comfortable1.00-5.004.45 (0.79)[4.37;4.52]
6. Be grateful to my parents for raising me1.00-5.004.78 (0.53)[4.72;4.83]
7. Hurry home upon the death of my parents, regardless of how far away I am1.00-5.004.77 (0.55)[4.71;4.82]
8. Take the initiative to assist my parents when they are busy1.00-5.004.42 (0.82)[4.32;4.50]
RFP sub-scale4.59 (0.53)
9. Take my parents’ suggestions even when I do not agree with them1.00-5.003.70 (1.14)[3.58;3.83]
10. Let my income be handled by my parents before marriage1.00-5.003.16 (1.39)[3.03;3.30]
11. Disregard promises to friends in order to obey my parents1.00-5.003.48 (1.17)[3.35;3.59]
12. Give up my aspirations to meet my parents’ expectations1.00-5.003.21 (1.23)[3.08;3.33]
13. Do whatever my parents ask right away1.00-5.003.45 (1.14)[3.33; 3.57]
14. Avoid getting married to someone my parents dislike1.00-5.003.13 (1.29)[3.00; 3.27]
AFP sub-scale3.34 (0.98)
Mean of all3.96 (0.62)

In addition, one more difference can be seen between the two models of filial piety. The standard deviation of the sub-scale of RFP is 0.53 while in the AFP sub-scale it is 0.98. The standard deviation of AFP is almost twice as high as the standard deviation of RFP. In other words, in AFP, the answers tend to fluctuate more strongly, differing more than in RFP, whereas RFP seems to be more consensual.


The average scores of the whole scale are high: 4.16 (see Table 3). Items with the highest average scores include: “I believe that my family and those around me are happy” (M = 4.31), “Although it is quite average, my family lives a stable life” (M = 4.29), “It is significant to me that my family is happy” (M = 4.27). The item with the lowest average score on the entire scale is “My family does not have any major concerns or anxieties” (M = 3.73). Even at the lowest point, the average score is still relatively high on the 5-point Likert scale. In short, the level of family happiness – as assessed by adult children – is quite high. If we consider happiness as the frequent occurrence of a state of contentment and the absence of discomfort, this item stands in contrast and shows that while families may be happy and satisfied, they may nevertheless have anxieties.

Table 3

Interdependent happiness in family

ItemsMin-MaxM (SD)95% CI
1. I believe that my family and those around me are happy1.00-5.004.31 (0.74)[4.23; 4.39]
2. I feel that my family is being positively evaluated by others around me1.00-5.004.16 (0.78)[4.08; 4.24]
3. It is significant to me that my family is happy2.00-5.004.27 (0.72)[4.19; 4.34]
4. Although it is quite average, my family lives a stable life2.00-5.004.29 (0.68)[4.23; 4.35]
5. My family does not have any major concerns or anxieties1.00-5.003.73 (1.07)[3.62; 3.84]
6. My family can do what we want without causing problems for other people1.00-5.004.20 (0.75)[4.12; 4.27]
7. I believe that my family is just as happy as that of others around me1.00-5.004.18 (0.74)[4.10; 4.25]
8. I believe my family has achieved the same standard of living as those around me2.00-5.004.12 (0.78)[4.03; 4.20]
9. I generally believe that things are going as well for my family in its own way as they are for others around me1.00-5.004.24 (0.75)[4.16; 4.32]
Mean of all4.16 (0.78)


To investigate the relationship between filial piety (independent variable) and family happiness (dependent variable), we calculated the overall results of two models of filial piety (AFP and RFP) as well as the overall results of family happiness (see Table 4).

Table 4

Correlation between filial piety and family happiness

Family happiness (1)
  Pearson correlation1
  p (2-tailed)
RFP (2)
  Pearson correlation.59**1
  p (2-tailed).001
AFP (3)
  Pearson correlation.50**.38**1
  p (2-tailed).001.001

[i] Note. **Correlation is significant at the .01 level (2-tailed). RFP – reciprocal filial piety; AFP – authoritarian filial piety

Filial piety and family happiness have a positive and close relationship; the Pearson correlation coefficient is more than 0.5. Furthermore, RFP has a stronger correlation with family happiness than AFP (.59 and .50).

Consideration of the relationship between filial piety and family happiness was the basis for the next step of the research analysis. Here we used a linear regression from the perspective of filial piety, as the independent variable, and happiness as the dependent variable.

The results of the linear regression analysis (see Table 5) showed that filial piety can account for 43.3% of the variation in family happiness. That is a very high figure, denoting considerable interaction. Filial piety, as considered in this paper, is a vital personality quality. Further, filial piety always involves at least two generations in the family.

Table 5

Regression model between filial piety and family happiness

Family happiness
R2 = .43

[i] Note. RFP – reciprocal filial piety; AFP – authoritarian filial piety; **p < 01.


Results obtained from the DFPS indicated that RFP was much higher than AFP. Unlike traditional Chinese parents, especially the father, who were believed to have more authority or even absolute rights over their children, Vietnamese parents, the father in particular, share with their children collective and bilateral responsibility, legally, morally and spiritually (Huynh, 1962; Trần, 1997). The increasing modernization and globalization tend to make the intergenerational reciprocity even stronger.

Lê (2022), in a study of the value of children to their elders, obtained results similar to this study’s findings. For elderly parents, the value of children lies in emotional and family factors, rather than economic-normative concerns or old age security. Perhaps these results reflect the changes in filial piety as it adapts to modern society. Factors which now influence filial piety may differ from traditional ones, and include a decrease in the number of children, an increase in average incomes, and wider coverage of the social insurance system. In addition, there is a growing number of nuclear families, and a younger generation of people who do not live with their parents and are becoming more independent in their work and economic matters. These factors are likely to influence the results of this study. According to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam (GSO) and the United Nation Fund Population Agency (UNFPA) the proportion of the elderly population living with children is still high but is decreasing. In 1992-1993 it was nearly 80%, was down to 62% by 2008, and in 2021, out of 12.58 million elderly people in Vietnam, only 57.67% still live in the same village as their children (GSO & UNFPA, 2022). Clearly, family is always one of the most important dimensions, and among the family values, filial piety is always top of the hundreds of good qualities (Đào, 1938/2021; Mai, 2022). Whether it be a success or a failure, joy or sorrow in life, it is only within the family that people feel protected, have a sense of balance, and feel motivated to work and to aspire.

Studies of the relationship between dual filial piety and emotional life indicated that RFP produces better relationships, with less parent-child conflict (Yeh & Bedford, 2004), and demonstrates higher satisfaction with life (Chen, 2014). In our study, the correlation coefficient between AFP and RFP has a p value of .380, meaning that AFP and RFP are correlated variables. Thus, in order to understand filial piety in the context of Vietnamese culture, it is necessary to view filial piety flexibly and multi-dimensionally. In fact, studies show that AFP leads to negative effects such as anxiety, depression, and heightened aggression (Yeh, 2006). However, AFP that enhances sacrifice can help maintain family harmony because it benefits all members of the family (Yeh & Bedford, 2004). Vietnamese culture has long been an East and South East Asian culture, which always highlights the values of interdependence and community (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Our research results on family happiness are commensurate with other recent studies.

Many researchers acknowledge that the parent-child relationship plays a central role in Vietnamese families and is at the core of Vietnamese culture (Jamieson, 1993). Filial piety, like other family cultural values, is always prominent among interpersonal relationships. Where such filial piety is so emphasized, families tend to be close and strong, the children are obedient, the family is considered to be a happy and exemplary one, and there is an impact on the behavior of family members both within the family and generally in the society. The results show a range of factors that influence family happiness. Research by Abadi et al. (2018) on factors that can affect the happy life of people in Sidoarjo (Indonesia) identified six factors (health, safety, family harmony, use of leisure time, owning a house and its appurtenances, and affection) that contribute 59.8% of the variance connected to the happiness of people’s lives. This result shows that family values do contribute to human happiness; however, in our study the main value was filial piety, whereas in the study by Abadi et al. (2018) it was harmony. Guo et al. (2022) in a study of the relationship between filial piety and academic achievement, together with the subjective well-being of a population of early adolescent Chinese, found that RFP was positively related to academic achievement, as well as to subjective well-being. In contrast, AFP was negatively related to academic achievement, but not significantly related to subjective well-being. Our findings showed the considerable impact of filial piety on family happiness as well as the importance of filial piety to family life. From a cultural perspective, the first lesson a child in a Vietnamese family is taught is that of the parent’s kindness and its reciprocation by the child in the form of filial piety. These positive values have become sustainable beliefs in Vietnamese culture and have regulated behavior in the family for generations.


Filial piety is a cultural value, a norm that guides behavior across generations, helps ensure the development of the family, and plays an important role as a social support system. Traditionally, filial piety often emphasizes the traits of loving, respecting, obeying, and taking care of parents and grandparents (the elderly-centered dimension). However, there is another kind of filial piety. It is seen in voluntary support, care, and love for parents, and the balance in parent-child relationships – this is the model of RFP. The two dimensions of filial piety seem to be opposite to each other, but they coexist. In Vietnamese culture, RFP seems to dominate the AFP dimension.

Happiness and psychological well-being are overarching and multi-dimensional concepts. Vietnam is a country which emphasizes collective values, and lays stress on the importance of family happiness. Family happiness is manifested in interdependence rather than in independence. It is not just a matter of the individual’s happiness, but of the family’s relationships. On the other hand, from two dimensions of filial piety, happiness is also reciprocal.

The results of this study show that participants express a high level of filial piety. This reflects the fact that filial piety, as a cultural value, has existed for many centuries among the Vietnamese people and is still strong. Examining the relationship between filial piety and happiness shows a strong positive correlation between our key terms: filial piety and happiness. In other words, the more filial piety (especially RFP) is practiced, the happier the family will be. The results indicated that filial piety predicts happiness at a high level. This meaningful finding itself provides some important answers to the question of how to build and maintain a happy and healthy intergenerational relationship in the family in modern Vietnamese society.