Does the unequal work-family balance decrease fertility preferences in China?

Rui Lu, University of Groningen
Gert Stulp, University of Groningen
Anne H. Gauthier, NIDI


The conflict between the increase participation of women in the labour market and the persistence of gender inequality in the gender domestic labour division is regarded as a classic explanation for the low fertility (MacDonald, 2000). Yet, such research is mostly concerned within western countries. Asia, particularly China, is seldom incorporated despite the fact that many East Asian countries also have low fertility. China’s fertility rate has kept decreasing well below replacement levels since the 1990s, and recent research suggests that socioeconomic factors have a stronger effect on fertility than policy constraints. The effect of China’s gender (in)equality on its patterns of fertility preferences is however unclear. On the one hand, China displays a high level of female labour participation and the government is striving to create a more gender-equal society. On the other hand, there still exists gender discrimination in terms of salary and promotion, including motherhood wage penalties. Similarly, traditional values in China are still mainstream in that women are supposed to be in charge of housework and care within households.

With this background, this paper will investigate the effect of economic and domestic gender division of labour on fertility preferences using data from the 2012 Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) to explore how gender equality within couples feeds into fertility preferences. The CGSS 2012 is particularly suitable because it contains data on the division of housework tasks, the hours spent on housework, the perceived fairness of the housework division, whether housework impacts the work-life balance, and gender role values. We will show how the unequal division of labour affects fertility preferences and the extent to which this is mediated through perceived fairness and values. We discuss these findings in light of two recent papers on the same topic that showed mixed results (Yang,2017; Kan & Hertog,2017).

Presented in Session 1166: Fertility