Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Fertility of Chinese Immigrants in the U.S.: Testing a Fertility Emancipation Hypothesis

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Fertility of Chinese Immigrants in the U.S.: Testing a Fertility Emancipation Hypothesis

Article excerpt

SEAN-SHONG HWANG University of Alabama-Birmingham

ROGELIO SAENZ Texas A&M University*

This study explores our hypothesis that the fertility of Chinese women, which was kept low by the one-child policy implemented in the People's Republic of China in 1979, is likely to bounce back to a higher level once these women emigrate. We test this hypothesis with data from the 1990 U.S. Census of Population 5% Public Use Microdata Samples. Using least squares regression analysis, we find evidence supporting our hypothesis. Our findings indicate that, other things being equal, women from the People's Republic of China have a significantly lower average number of children than Chinese women from other countries. The fertility difference between the two groups of women reverses direction, however, when we shift our focus to the average number of U.S. births. Women from the People's Republic of China are able to surpass their counterparts in postmigration births due to their accelerating U.S. fertility rate. These findings corroborate theories of social behavior that suggest that rational individuals adjust their fertility levels when external circumstances affect fertility change.

Key Words: China, Chinese emigrants, family planning, fertility, population policy, U.S. immigration.

Using the 1949 victory of the Communist revolution as the watershed, modern Chinese history is divided into pre- and postemancipation. Ideologically, the war has been touted to have "emancipated" 450 million Chinese people from the "repressive rule" of the Kuomingtang regime. We use the term "emancipation" here to refer to what we consider the repressive nature of China's onechild policy and the possible reproductive freedom Chinese women are likely to reclaim when they leave the People's Republic of China. This study explores our emancipation hypothesis that the fertility of Chinese women, which was kept at a low level by the one-child policy implemented in 1979, is likely to bounce back once these women emigrate from China.

Fertility in the People's Republic of China has been declining (Banister, 1987; Coale, Wang, & Riley, 1991; Greenhalgh & Bongaarts, 1987; Lavely & Freedman, 1990; Poston & Yaukey, 1992). The extent to which the decline has been a result of the spontaneous acts of Chinese women or of the official birth control policies, however, is debatable. China experts concur that the restrictive fertility policies of the past certainly have played a role, although this is perhaps more apparent since the Chinese government implemented its one-child policy (Feeney & Wang, 1993; Li, 1995). Because the effects of spontaneous fertility control and policy are confounded, it has been a methodological challenge for researchers to demonstrate the effects of policy on China's fertility, independent of the effects of selfmotivated control. We propose a study to separate the confounding effects of spontaneous limitations of fertility and policy control so that the independent effects of the one-child policy can be better measured.

This study is based on the assumptions that people in the People's Republic of China, like Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other parts of the world, still value sons and that the onechild policy (Banister, 1987) has frustrated the reproductive desires of most Chinese couples in mainland China. We believe that these assumptions are valid, and we expect the fertility level of women from the People's Republic of China to bounce back once they emigrate to a country without a similar fertility policy.

Although anecdotal evidence (based on journalists' accounts and personal knowledge) suggests fertility emancipation among Chinese emigrants, to our knowledge there has not been a systematic empirical examination of the hypothesis. Because some Chinese emigrants cited the government control of fertility as their primary reason for seeking political asylum in the U. …

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