Gender Imbalance and Social Network Pressures in Rural China
Xi Chen, Assistant Professor at Department of Health Policy and Management Yale School of Public Health
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China and some other Asian countries have experienced a large surplus of men of marriageable age. The existing literature studies the impact of sex imbalance using aggregate sex ratios, such as at the county, city, or province level. However, these studies may miss important impacts on health and behavior because the relevance of surplus sons to family decisions mainly stems from pressure conveyed through social interactions with the local reference group. This paper draws from unique social network data, collected from households' long-term spontaneous gift exchange records (li dan), combined with household panel data from 18 Chinese villages to explore the prevalence of men's localized pressure to get married. The surveyed villages are home to Chinese ethnic minorities, which largely circumvents endogenous fertility decisions on the first-born child due to the implementation of One Child Policy and its associated relaxations afterwards. To identify the effect of pressure to find wives for their sons on parental risky behavior, we focus on comparing families with a first-born boy versus a first-born girl and distinguish the network spillover effect from the direct effect. The spatial econometric decompositions suggest that the pressure mainly originates from a few friends with unmarried sons and unbalanced sex ratios in the friendship networks, though own village sex ratio and having an unmarried son also affects parental risk-taking behavior. The results are consistent across specifications allowing for long-run and short-run effects. We also find similar patterns for parental working hours, their likelihood to engage in entrepreneurial activities and decision to migrate. In contrast, parents with a daughter do not demonstrate this pattern. Since the sex ratio imbalance in China will probably worsen in the next decade, disentangling the real sources of marriage market pressure may help design policies to improve parental well-being.