Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Can Economic Schemes Curtail the Increasing Sex Ratio at Birth in China?

Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Can Economic Schemes Curtail the Increasing Sex Ratio at Birth in China?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Fertility decline, driven by the one-child policy, and son preference have contributed to an alarming difference in the number of live male and female births in China. We present a quantitative model where people choose to sex-select because they perceive that married sons are more valuable than married daughters. Due to the predominant patrilocal kinship system in China, daughters-in-law provide valuable emotional and financial support, enhancing the perceived present value of married sons. We argue that inter-generational transfer data will help ascertain the extent to which economic schemes (such as pension plans for families with no sons) can curtail the increasing sex ratio at birth.

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1. Introduction

China is currently experiencing rapid demographic changes. A rapid decline in fertility, driven by the one-child policy, has produced a rapidly aging population and been followed by a large increase in the sex ratio at birth (SRB). The latter is primarily due to son preference (Coale 1991; Johansson and Nygren 1991; Li et al 2000a), which is widespread in China and derives in part from Confucian principles and a rigid patrilineal culture. Fertility decline, a strong parental desire to have at least one son, and the increasing availability of sex-selection technology have led to a far greater number of male live births than female live births as compared to the numbers expected in most human populations (Coale 1991; Sen 1990). Continued growth in the SRB will likely have serious implications for China's marriage market and its future stability (Tuljapurkar et al. 1995).

In this paper we focus on understanding how policy interventions by the Chinese government, particularly economic programs, could affect the sex ratio at birth. Previous research has shown that the kinship system and nature of marriage strongly affect son preference in China, Northern India and South Korea (Das Gupta et al. 2003). In the long run there is likely to be feedback from the marriage squeeze created by a large number of excess males, which may force people to rethink sex-selection, at least to some extent (Tuljapurkar et al. 1995). To capture the relationship between son preference, marriage and the value of children, we introduce the notion of perceived present values of married and unmarried sons and daughters (Appendix A contains a glossary of terms).

We present a simple economic model of son preference using the terminology of Li, Feldman and Tuljapurkar (2000). We show that under our model assumptions, the decisions made by couples acting in their own interests do not maximize the total expected present value for all couples in society. Although sex-selection is not socially efficient, it is the equilibrium solution for couples acting independently. There is an incentive for people to sex-select because they perceive that a married son is more valuable than a married daughter. We apply the model to data from China in 1989, to estimate the relationship between the perceived present values of sons and daughters assuming that the observed demographic rates were close to the equilibrium values. Finally, we demonstrate how to analyze policies involving economic benefits (such as pension plans for families with no sons) in terms of our model. We compare policies based on their effectiveness in decreasing the difference between the perceived present value of sons and daughters, thereby reducing the sex ratio at birth.

2. Sex ratio at birth, son preference and the one-child policy

The sex ratio at birth (SRB) is the ratio of number of boys to girls born in a certain time period. The SRB is usually stated as the number of boys born for every hundred girls born. An SRB of 105 is generally accepted to be naturally occurring, and does not change much with parity, i.e. the birth order of the child (Johansson and Nygren 1991). The increasing SRB in China (figure 1) and in other Asian countries like India, South Korea and Taiwan indicate a growing deviation from this normal value. …

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