Demography

Older Tibetan woman sits in her living room in China.

Demography

Analyzing demographic policies and challenges in China.

Overview

In effect for almost 40 years (1979-2015), China’s “One-Child Policy” comprised the world’s most far reaching and stringent attempt at population control. Now, in the face of serious demographic challenges – including an aging population, a stubbornly low fertility rate, and a heavily skewed sex ratio – China’s government has relaxed the policy to two children and is tentatively moving to end all birth restrictions. Yet the true social and economic consequences of China’s population policies remain unclear. There are also increasing concerns about a shrinking workforce, difficulty caring for an elderly population, a surplus of unmarried men, the wellbeing of only children, and the tragic legacy of as many as 30 million “missing girls” through sex-selective abortion, neglect, and abandonment. These demographic issues will be among the most important long-term challenges for China. 

Publications

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Policy Brief

Tracking China's Economic Path

Hongbin Li, Scott Rozelle
2021
Stanford scholars are setting and expanding research agendas to analyze China’s economic development and its impact on the world. The newly launched Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions — co-directed by SIEPR senior fellows Hongbin Li and Scott Rozelle — is supporting their work. In this SIEPR Policy Brief, Li and Rozelle outline the research underway by the new center's affiliates.
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Journal Article

Wage Differential between Rural Migrants and Urban Workers in the People's Republic of China

Hong Cheng, Dezhuang Hu, Hongbin Li
Asian Development Review , 2020
Using a recently constructed dataset that draws on the China Employer–Employee Survey, this paper provides new evidence on the earnings gap between rural migrant and urban manufacturing workers in the People's Republic of China. When we only control for province fixed effects, we find that rural migrant workers are paid 22.3% less per month and 32.2% less per hour than urban workers. We find that the gap in hourly earnings is larger than the gap in monthly earnings because rural migrant workers tend to work an average of 5.6% more hours per month than urban workers. Using these data, we also find that 87.4% of the monthly earnings gap and 73.9% of the hourly earnings gap can be attributed to differences in the individual characteristics and human capital levels of rural migrant and urban workers. Furthermore, we find that this unexplained earnings gap varies among different groups of workers. The earnings gap is much larger (i) for workers in state-owned enterprises than in nonstate-owned enterprises, (ii) for college-educated workers than workers with lower levels of educational attainment, and (iii) in Guangdong province than in Hubei province.
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Journal Article

Parental Migration and Early Childhood Development in Rural China

Ai Yue, Yu Bai, Yaojiang Shi, Renfu Luo, Scott Rozelle, Alexis Medina, Sean Sylvia
Demography , 2020
Nearly one-quarter of all children under age 2 in China are left behind in the countryside as parents migrate to urban areas for work.We use a four-wave longitudinal survey following young children from 6 to 30 months of age to provide first evidence on the effects of parental migration on development, health, and nutritional outcomes in the critical first stages of life. We find that maternal migration has a negative effect on cognitive development: migration before children reach 12 months of age reduces cognitive development by 0.3 standard deviations at age 2. Possible mechanisms include reduced dietary diversity and engagement in stimulating activities, both known to be causally associated with skill development in early life. We find no effects on other dimensions of physical and social-emotional health.
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Journal Article

Land Reform and Sex Selection in China

Douglas Almond , Hongbin Li, Shuang Zhang
Journal of Political Economy , 2019
China’s land reform in 1978–84 unleashed rapid growth in farm output and household income. In new data on reform timing in 914 counties, we find an immediate trend break in the fraction of male children following the reform. Among second births that followed a firstborn girl, sex ratios increased from 1.1 to 1.3 boys per girl in the 4 years following reform. Larger increases are found among families with more education. The land reform estimate is robust to controlling for the county-level rollout of the One Child Policy. Overall, we estimate land reform accounted for about 1 million missing girls.
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Journal Article

Parental Migration, Educational Achievement, and Mental Health of Junior High School Students in Rural China

Fang Chang, Yuxi Jiang, Prashant Loyalka, James Chu, Yaojiang Shi, Annie Osborn, Scott Rozelle
China Economic Review , 2019
China's rapid development has led to an unprecedented increase in migration rates as an evergrowing number of rural residents migrate to urban areas to seek better job opportunities an help alleviate family poverty. Economic pressures and structural restrictions force many of these migrant workers to leave their children behind in their rural homes, which has led to the emergence and expansion of a new subpopulation in China: left-behind children (LBCs). This study examines the impacts of parental migration on the educational outcomes (specifically math achievement) and mental health (specifically anxiety) of LBCs using data covering 7495 children in a prefecture of Shaanxi Province (from three surveys conducted between 2012 and 2014). We distinguish between “both parents migrating,” “one parent migrating,” “only a father migrating,” and “only a mother migrating.” We also explore the impacts on male versus female LBCs. We find no significant impact of parental migration on the math achievement of LBCs. In terms of mental health, however, our results indicate that left-behind girls were negatively affected by one parent migrating, especially if the migrating parent was the father. The findings suggest that it may not be necessary for policy makers to design special programs to improve educational outcomes of LBCs in general. However, local committees, schools, and parents should pay particular attention to left-behind girls living with only one parent, as they may be more vulnerable to mental health problems than their peers.
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Journal Article

Understanding the Situation of China’s Left‐Behind Children: A Mixed‐Methods analysis

Fang Chang, Yaojiang Shi, Amber Shen, Asa Kohrman, Katherine Li, Qinqin Wan, Kaleigh Kenny, Scott Rozelle
The Developing Economies , 2018

This research uses a mixed-methods analysis to examine how being left behind impacts the cognition/education,  nutrition,  and  mental  health  outcomes  of  children  in  rural  China.  We find  that  parental  migration  increases  household  income  and  decreases  care,  and  these impacts  vary  based  on location,  socioeconomic  status,  and  age.  We  also  find  that  families generally recognize these impacts. Our findings offer a more general view of the effects of being  left  behind  on  childhood  outcomes  than  previous  research,  which  often  used  small sample sizes from limited geographic areas or age ranges. Although our research focuses on China, the findings are relevant to other developing nations where working-age individuals often  migrate  domestically  or  internationally  in  search  of  work,  such  as  Mexico  and  the Philippines. 

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Journal Article

Fertility, Household Structure, and Parental Labor Supply: Evidence from China

Rufei Guo, Hongbin Li, Junjian Yi , Junsen Zhang
Journal of Comparative Economics , 2018
This study examines the effects of fertility on household structure and parental labor supply in China. To solve the endogeneity problem, we use a unique survey on households with twin children and a comparison group of non-twin households. The ordinary least squares estimates show a negative correlation between fertility and parental labor supply in rural China. Using twinning as a natural experiment, we do not find evidence on the negative effects of fertility on parental labor supply. By contrast, we find that the twinning-induced increase in fertility significantly enhances the coresidence of grandparents in rural China. We suggest that the negative effects of fertility on parental labor supply are mitigated by the childcare provided by grandparents in rural China. We also find that fertility does not induce coresidence of grandparents in urban China. Our results have important implications for population and public childcare policies.
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Journal Article

Human Capital and China’s Future Growth

Hongbin Li , Prashant Loyalka , Scott Rozelle, Binzhen Wu
Journal of Economic Perspectives , 2017
In this paper, we consider the sources and prospects for economic growth in China with a focus on human capital. First, we provide an overview of the role that labor has played in China's economic success. We then describe China's hukou policy, which divides China's labor force into two distinct segments, one composed of rural workers and the other of urban workers. For the rural labor force, we focus on the challenges of raising human capital by both increasing basic educational attainment rates as well as the quality of education. For the urban labor force, we focus on the issues of further expanding enrollment in college education as well as improving the quality of college education. We use a regression model to show the typical relationship between human capital and output in economies around the world and demonstrate how that relationship has evolved since 1980. We show that China has made substantial strides both in the education level of its population and in the way that education is being rewarded in its labor markets. However, as we look ahead, our results imply that China may find it impossible to maintain what appears to be its desired growth rate of 7 percent in the next 20 years; a growth rate of 3 percent over the next two decades seems more plausible. Finally, we present policy recommendations, which are rooted in the belief that China continues to have substantial room to improve the human capital of its labor force.
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Journal Article

Skill Complementarities and Returns to Higher Education: Evidence from College Enrollment Expansion in China

Hongbin Li, Yueyuan Ma, Lingsheng Meng, Xue Qiao, Xinzheng Shi
China Economic Review , 2017
We find that the increased supply of college graduates resulting from college enrollment expansion in China increases college premiums for older cohorts and decreases college premiums for younger cohorts. This finding is inconsistent with the canonical model that assumes substitution among workers of different ages. We subsequently build a simple model that considers complementarities among workers of different ages and different skill levels. Our model predicts that the college premium of senior workers increases with the supply of young college graduates when skill is a scarce resource. The model's predictions are supported by empirical tests.
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Journal Article

The Education Gap of China's Migrant Children and Rural Counterparts

Xiaobing Wang, Renfu Luo, Linxiu Zhang, Scott Rozelle
Journal of Development Studies , 2017

Rural residents in China today face at least two key decisions: a) where to live and work; and b) where to send their children to school. In this paper we study the second decision: should a rural parent send their child to a public rural school or have him or her attend a private migrant school in the city. While there is an existing literature on the impact of this decision on student academic performance, one of the main shortcomings of current studies is that the data that are used to analyse this issue are not fully comparable.

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Journal Article

Effect of Parental Migration on the Academic Performance of Left-behind Middle School Students in Rural China

Lili Li, Lei Wang, Jingchun Nie
China and World Economy , 2017

China’s rapid development and urbanization over the past 30 years have caused large numbers of rural residents to migrate to urban areas in search of work. This has created a generation of children who remain behind in rural areas when their parents migrate for work. Previous research has found mixed impacts of parental migration on the educational achievement of left-behind children (LBC), perhaps because of methodological deficiencies and lack of recognition of the heterogeneity of this population of children.

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Working Paper

The Effect of Maternal Migration on Early Childhood Development in Rural China

Ai Yue, Sean Sylvia, Yaojiang Shi, Renfu Luo, Scott Rozelle
Working Paper , 2016

Nearly a quarter of all children under the age of two in China are left behind in the countryside as parents migrate to urban areas for work. We use a longitudinal survey following young children and their caregivers from 6 to 30 months of age to estimate the effects of maternal migration on development, health, and nutritional outcomes in the critical first stages of life.We find significant negative effects on cognitive development and indicators of dietary quality.

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Journal Article

The New Rural Social Pension Program in Rural China: Participation and its Correlates

Renfu Luo, Linxiu Zhang, Scott Rozelle
China Agricultural Economic Review , 2016

Purpose: The need for a universal rural pension system has been heightened by demographic changes in rural China, including the rapid aging of the nation’s rural population and a dramatic decline in fertility. In response to these changes, China’s Government introduced the New Rural Social Pension Program (NRSPP) in 2009, a voluntary and highly subsidized pension scheme. The purpose of this paper is to assess the participation of rural farmers in the NRSPP. Furthermore, the authors examine whether the NRSPP affects the labor supply of the elderly population in China.

 
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Journal Article

The Retirement Consumption Puzzle Revisited: Evidence from the Mandatory Retirement Policy in China

Hongbin Li, Xinzheng Shi, Binzhen Wu
Journal of Comparative Economics , 2016
Using data from China's Urban Household Survey and exploiting China's mandatory retirement policy, we use the regression discontinuity approach to estimate the impact of retirement on household expenditures. Retirement reduces total non-durable expenditures by 19%. Among the categories of non-durable expenditures, retirement reduces work-related expenditures and expenditures on food consumed at home but has an insignificant effect on expenditures on entertainment. After excluding these three components, retirement does not have an effect on the remaining non-durable expenditures. It suggests that the retirement consumption puzzle might not be a puzzle if an extended life-cycle model with home production is considered.
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Journal Article

Gender and Off-farm Employment: Evidence from Rural China

Xiaobing Wang, Linghui Han, Jikun Huang, Linxiu Zhang, Scott Rozelle
China and World Economy , 2016
Abstract: The goal of the present paper is to examine how the expansion of the economy from 2000 has affected rural off-farm labor market participation. Specifically, we seek to determine whether off-farm labor increased after 2000, what forms of employment are driving trends in off-farm labor and whether gender differences can be observed in off farm employment trends. Using a nationally representative dataset that consist of two waves of surveys conducted in 2000 and 2008 in six provinces, this paper finds that off farm labor market participation continued to rise steadily in the early 2000s. However, there is a clear difference in the trends associated with occupational choice before and after 2000. In addition, we find that rural off-farm employment trends are different for men and women. Our analysis also shows that the rise of wage-earning employment corresponds with an increasing unskilled wage for both men and women.
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Journal Article

Adult child migration and elderly parental health in rural China

Fang Chang, Yaojiang Shi, Hongmei Yi, Natalie Johnson
China Economic Agricultural Review , 2016

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the effect of adult children migration on the health status of elderlyparents. Increased labor migration in developing countries that lack adequate social security systems and institutionalized care for the elderly is a phenomenon that is important to understand. When their adultchildren go away to work, it is not clear what effect there will be on “left-behind” elderly parents.

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Journal Article

Effects of Parental Migration on Mental Health of Left-Behind Children: Evidence from Northwestern China

Yu Bai, Yanni Shen, Yaojiang Shi, Kaleigh Kenny, Scott Rozelle
China & World Economy , 2016

China’s rapid development and urbanization has induced large numbers of rural residents to migrate from their homes in the countryside to urban areas in search of higher wages. It is estimated that there are more than 60 million left behind children (LBCs) remain in the countryside after their parents migrate. This paper examines the changes in mental health before and after the parents of fourth and fifth grade students out- or return-migrate. We draw on a panel dataset collected by the authors of more than 19,000 students from 252 rural primary schools in northwestern China. Using difference-in-difference and propensity score matching approaches, our results indicate that parental out-migration has a significant negative impact on the mental health of LBCs, as they tend to exhibit higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of self-esteem. However, we find that parental return-migration has no significant effect on the mental health of LBCs. 

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Journal Article

How Off-farm Employment Affects Technical Efficiency of China’s Farms: The Case of Jiangsu

Linxiu Zhang, Weiliang Su, Tor Eriksson, Changfang liu
China & World Economy , 2016

Using three-wave survey data for four villages of Jiangsu Province in China, the present paper examines whether and to what extent off-farm employment affects the technical efficiency of agricultural production. The level of technical efficiency is measured using a stochastic frontier production function approach. Based on estimation results from instrumental variable panel quantile regressions we find that there is a positive significant effect of off-farm employment on the level of farm technical efficiency. We also find that fragmentation of farmland is a barrier to the improvement of technical efficiency. In addition, we find a downward trend in the level of agricultural technical efficiency among our sample. Therefore, the Chinese Government should stimulate agricultural mechanization and the development of farming techniques to improve technical efficiency in the context of increasing off-farm employment.

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Journal Article

China's Left Behind Children: Impact of Parental Migration on Health, Nutrition and Educational Outcomes

Chengchao Zhou, Sean Sylvia, Linxiu Zhang, Renfu Luo, Hongmei Yi, Chengfang Liu, Yaojiang Shi, James Chu, Alexis Medina, Scott Rozelle
Health Affairs Volume 34, Issue 11 , 2015
China’s rapid development and urbanization have induced large numbers of rural residents to migrate from their homes to urban areas in search of better job opportunities. Parents typically leave their children behind with a caregiver, creating a new, potentially vulnerable subpopulation of left-behind children in rural areas. A growing number of policies and nongovernmental organization efforts target these children. The primary objective of this study was to examine whether left-behind children are really the most vulnerable and in need of special programs. Pulling data from a comprehensive data set covering 141,000 children in ten provinces (from twenty-seven surveys conducted between 2009 and 2013), we analyzed nine indicators of health, nutrition, and education. We found that for all nine indicators, left-behind children performed as well as or better than children living with both parents. However, both groups of children performed poorly on most of these indicators. Based on these findings, we recommend that special programs designed to improve health, nutrition, and education among left-behind children be expanded to cover all children in rural China.
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Journal Article

Non-use of health care service among empty-nest elderly in Shandong, China: a cross-sectional study

Chengchao Zhou, Chunmei Ji, Jie Chu, Alexis Medina, Cuicui Li, Shan Jiang, Wengui Zheng, Jing Liu, Scott Rozelle
BMC Health Services Research , 2015

Background: Empty-nest elderly refers to those elderly with no children or whose children have already left home. Few studies have focused on healthcare service use among empty-nest seniors, and no studies have identified the prevalence and profiles of non-use of healthcare services among empty-nest elderly. The purpose of this study is to compare the prevalence of non-use of healthcare services between empty-nest and non-empty-nest elderly and identify risk factors for the non-use of healthcare services among empty-nest seniors.

Methods: Four thousand four hundred sixty nine seniors (60 years and above) were draw from a cross-sectional study conducted in three urban districts and three rural counties of Shandong Province in China. Non-visiting within the past 2 weeks and non-hospitalization in previous year are used to measure non-use of healthcare services. Chi-square test is used to compare the prevalence of non-use between empty-nesters and non-empty-nesters. Multivariate logistic regression analysis is employed to identify the risk factors of non-use among empty-nest seniors.

Results: Of 4469 respondents, 2667(59.7 %) are empty-nesters. Overall, 35.5 % of the participants had non-visiting and 34.5 % had non-hospitalization. Non-visiting rate among empty-nest elderly (37.7 %) is significantly higher than that among non-empty-nest ones (32.7 %) (P = 0.008). Non-hospitalization rate among empty-nesters (36.1 %) is slightly higher than that among non-empty-nesters (31.6 %) (P = 0.166). Financial difficulty is the leading cause for both non-visiting and non-hospitalization of the participants, and it exerts a larger negative effect on access to healthcare for empty-nest elderly than non-empty-nest ones. Both non-visiting and non-hospitalization among empty-nest seniors are independently associated with low-income households, health insurance status and non-communicable chronic diseases. The nonvisiting rate is also found to be higher among the empty-nesters with lower education and those from rural areas.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that empty-nest seniors have higher non-use rate of healthcare services than non-empty-nest ones. Financial difficulty is the leading cause of non-use of health services. Healthcare policies should be developed or modified to make them more pro-poor and also pro-empty-nested.

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Journal Article

Teaching the Language of Wider Communication, Minority Students, and Overall Educational Performance: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Qinghai Province, China

Fang Lai, Linxiu Zhang, Qinghe Qu, Xiao Hu, Matthew Boswell, Scott Rozelle
Economic Development and Cultural Change , 2015

The education of poor and disadvantaged populations, particularly those from minority subgroups, has been a long-standing challenge to education systems in both developed and developing countries (e.g., World Bank 2001, 2004; Glewwe and Kremer 2006; Planty et al. 2008). For example, over the past decade in the United States the high school dropout rate of Hispanic students has remained at least twice as high as that of white students (Aud et al.

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Journal Article

The Retirement Consumption Puzzle in China

Hongbin Li , Xinzheng Shi, Binzhen Wu
American Economic Review , 2015
Using data from China's Urban Household Survey and exploiting China's mandatory retirement policy, we use the regression discontinuity approach to estimate the impact of retirement on household expenditures. Retirement reduces total non-durable expenditures by 20 percent. Among the categories of non-durable expenditures, retirement reduces work-related expenditures and expenditures on food consumed at home but has an insignificant effect on entertainment expenditures. After excluding these three components, retirement does not have an effect on the remaining non-durable expenditures. It suggests that the retirement consumption puzzle might not be a puzzle if a life-cycle model with home production is considered.
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Journal Article

Girl Adoption in China: A Less-Known Side of Son Preference

Yuyu Chen , Avraham Ebenstein , Lena Edlund , Hongbin Li
Population Studies: Journal of Demography , 2015
In 1987, 4 per cent of girls were adopted within China. Why? Unlike infanticide, abandonment rids parents of daughters while preserving the supply of potential brides. In fact, an erstwhile tradition common in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces had parents of sons adopting an infant girl to serve as a future daughter-in-law and household help. Analysing a nationally representative 1992 survey of children, we found that: (1) girl adoptions were concentrated in the above-mentioned provinces; (2) girls were predominantly adopted by families with sons; (3) adopted girls faced substantial disadvantage as measured by school attendance at ages 8–13. In the 1990s, as the sex ratio at birth climbed, were girls aborted rather than abandoned? Observing that in the 2000 census too many girls appear in families with older sons, we estimated that at least 1/25 girls were abandoned in the 1990s, a proportion that in Fujian and Jiangxi may have peaked at 1/10 in 1994.
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Journal Article

Unequal Access to College in China: How Far Have Poor, Rural Students Been Left Behind?

Hongbin Li , Prashant Loyalka , Scott Rozelle , Binzhen Wu , Jieyu Xie
The China Quarterly , 2015
In the 1990s, rural youth from poor counties in China had limited access to college. After mass college expansion started in 1998, however, it was unclear whether rural youth from poor counties would gain greater access. The aim of this paper is to examine the gap in college and elite college access between rural youth from poor counties and other students after expansion. We estimate the gaps in access by using data on all students who took the college entrance exam in 2003. Our results show that gaps in access remained high even after expansion. Rural youth from poor counties were seven and 11 times less likely to access any college and elite Project 211 colleges than urban youth, respectively. Much larger gaps existed for disadvantaged subgroups (female or ethnic minority) of rural youth from poor counties. We also find that the gaps in college access were mainly driven by rural–urban differences rather than differences between poor and non-poor counties within rural or urban areas.
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Journal Article

Factors Underlying Different Myopia Prevalence between Middle- and Low-income Provinces in China

Zhongqiang Zhou, Xiaochen Ma, Hongmei Yi, Xiaopeng Pang, Yaojiang Shi, Qianyun Chen, Mirjam E. Meltzer, Carlos Price-Sanchez, Mingguang He, Scott Rozelle, Ian Morgan, Nathan Congdon
Ophthalmology , 2015

Currently available data on myopia and spectacle wear are drawn largely from China’s richer and middle-income areas, and little is known about refractive error and spectacle wear in the lowest income provinces. Studies from China and elsewhere suggest that large differences in myopia prevalence may exist between areas of different socioeconomic status within countries, but reasons for these differences are not well understood.

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