Fertility decline and women’s empowerment in China

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Xiaogang Wu, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Hua Ye, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Gloria Guangye He, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

The literature typically treats fertility decline in developing countries as an indicator of women’s status improvement, based on the assumption that women have greater decision making power on childbearing as their status improves. This paper investigates whether and how fertility decline leads to reduction in gender inequality and the improvement of women’s status in China. Based on the analyses of data from two nationally representative surveys, we show that women with lower fertility do less housework and tend to be more satisfied with their status within family than women with higher fertility. Such effects are more pronounced for women in more recent marital cohorts. Across generations, lower fertility implies fewer siblings and daughters benefit more in terms of years of schooling and subsequently occupational attainment.