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The Curious Case of Son Preference and Household Income in Rural China

  • Economics


The Curious Case of Son Preference and Household CSAE WPS/2008-03 The Curious Case of Son Preference and Household Income in Rural China John Knight, Li Shi and Deng Quheng 14 January 2008 Abstract. Why is it that couples who have a son or whose last child is a son earn higher conditional income? To solve this curious case we tell a detective story: evidence of a phenomenon to be explained, a parade of suspects, a process of elimination from the enquiry, and then the denouement. Given the draconian family planning policy and a common perception that there is strong son preference in rural China, we postulate two main hypotheses: income-based sex selection making it more likely that richer households have sons, and an incentive for households with sons to raise their income. Tests of each hypothesis are conducted. The evidence is inconsistent with the sex selection hypothesis but the incentive hypothesis cannot be rejected; and there is evidence in support of the channels through which the incentive effect might operate. To our knowledge, this is the first study to test these hypotheses in rural China and more generally in developing countries. JEL Classification: J13, J16, J 71. Key words: son preference; family planning; sex selection; household income; China. Corresponding author: John Knight, Department of Economics, Manor Road Building, Oxford OX1 3UQ, United Kingdom, [email protected] Acknowledgement: The research was conducted while Li Shi and Deng Quheng were visiting the Department of Economics, University of Oxford, from Beijing Normal University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Graduate School of Economics respectively. 1. Introduction It is the Chinese tradition to place greater emphasis on sons than on daughters, especially in rural areas. Thi

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