Child Poverty, Generational Mobility and the One Child Policy in Urban China

Type Working Paper
Title Child Poverty, Generational Mobility and the One Child Policy in Urban China
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
Chinas’ controversial and far reaching One Child Policy (OCP) introduced in 1979
changed fundamentally the nature of both existing and anticipated marriage arrangements
and influenced family formation decisions in many dimensions especially with respect to
the number of and investment in children. It may well be expected to have influenced
their well being and life chances. Child poverty, or the over-representation of children in
the poverty group, has been a major policy issue in western societies. In the United
Kingdom and Canada its elimination has been a declared policy target, in the USA, its
deleterious consequences have been attacked with policies promoting generational
mobility (i.e. policies to reduce the dependence of child outcomes on parental
circumstances) under an equal opportunities imperative. Here the impact of the OCP on
child poverty and generational mobility in the context of the parent/child educational
attainments and incomes is considered. Using data drawn from an urban household
survey carried out in six provinces in China, namely Shaanxi, Jilin, Hubei, Sichuan,
Guangdong and Shandong (the first two may be considered low, the second two
intermediate and the third pair high income provinces) the impact of the OCP on child
poverty and generational mobility is studied.
The extent to which the OCP influenced investment in children is studied by studying the
way in which the relationship between the educational attainment of children and family
characteristics changed with the introduction of the OCP. Broadly speaking the impact of
household income and parental educational attainment increased significantly over time,
there also appears to be an emerging negative household size effect and a negative birth
order effect suggesting that the level of investment in children diminished with the size of
the family. Finally a positive gender effect emerged (girls advanced more than boys).
Examination of the proportion of children in the poverty group (defined by incomes
below various proportions of median income) revealed that, unlike western societies,
children are not overrepresented in the poverty group, neither before nor after the OCP.
Here comparisons are made with Canada and the United Kingdom (where child poverty
has been of major concern) and India (where similar household arrangements prevail) and
the status and trends of child poverty are found to be very different. As for mobility,
applying new techniques for measuring its degree we observe that the life chances of
children born under its regimen have improved substantially but become increasingly
dependent upon their parental circumstances. Thus, consistent with the increased parental
investment per child that the OCP engendered, there is a much closer association between
the characteristics of subsequent generations or a substantial reduction in generational
mobility. This phenomenon is found to be particularly prevalent in the lower income
quantiles reinforcing a dynastic notion of poverty.

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