Violette Ho

Document Type



Vietnam's 1980s open-door policy (Đổi-mới) has created opportunities for women to work outside the home. The educational reform launched after Đổi-mới, which aimed to provide a workforce for Vietnam's growing market economy, has brought a surge in college attendance among women since the 1990s. The surge has occurred even though the traditional system of patrilocal marriage and residence remains the normative expectation, and helping daughters attend college often means sacrificing most of a family's meager resources. Drawing on open-ended interviews with 12 female, low-income college students from suburban and rural areas in Southern Vietnam, this paper explores why young women want to go to college and why their parents support their higher education. It argues that young women attend college not simply to take advantage of economic opportunities, but to gain respect not only for themselves, but also for their parents, and ultimately achieve non-dependence on their husbands. Specifically, they do not want to depend on their (future) husbands financially, an economic role that allows them and their natal families greater respect. These young women reframe educational prospects in two ways: within local ideologies of what a modern Vietnamese woman can or should do and within the Vietnamese culture's strong familial orientations. This study advances scholarship about women and higher education by suggesting that, for the Vietnamese women interviewed, college is not explicitly about achieving self-fulfillment or independence from their families, but is actually a way for them to gain respect while simultaneously fulfilling traditional expectations to their natal families.