, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 545-570

The Decline of Smoking Among Female Birth Cohorts in China in the 20th Century: A Case of Arrested Diffusion?

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Abstract

The smoking prevalence by age of women in China is distinct from most other countries in showing more frequent smoking among older women than younger. Using newly developed birth cohort histories of smoking, the authors demonstrate that although over one quarter of women born 1908–1912 smoked, levels of smoking declined across successive cohorts. This occurred despite high rates of smoking by men and the wide availability of cigarettes. The analysis shows how this pattern is counter to that predicted by the leading theoretical perspectives on the diffusion of smoking and suggests that it arose out of a mix of Confucian traditions relating to gender and the socio-economic and political events early in the twentieth century which placed emerging women’s identities in conflict with national identities. That a similar pattern of smoking is evident in Japan and Korea, two countries with strong cultural affinities to China, is used to buttress the argument.