, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 963–987 | Cite as

Family life course transitions and rural Household economy during China’s market reform

  • Feinian Chen
  • Kim Korinek


This article investigates the effect of family life course transitions on labor allocation strategies in rural Chinese households. We highlight three types of economic activity that involve reallocation of household labor oriented toward a more diversified, nonfarm rural economy: involvement in wage employment, household entrepreneurship, and/or multiple activities that span economic sectors. With the use of data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS 1997, 2000, and 2004), our longitudinal analyses of rural household economic activity point to the significance of household demography, life course transitions, and local economic structures as factors facilitating household labor reallocation. First, as expected, a relatively youthful household structure is conducive to innovative economic behavior. Second, household entrances and exits are significant, but their impacts are not equal. Life events such as births, deaths, marriage, or leaving home for school or employment affect household economy in distinctive ways. Finally, the reallocations of household labor undertaken by households are shaped by local economic structures: in particular, the extent of village-level entrepreneurial activity, off-farm employment, and out-migration.


Household Member Household Composition Household Labor Business Formation Wage Employment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, R.H. 1998. “Remittances, Investment and Rural Asset Accumulation in Pakistan.”Economic Development and Cultural Change 47: 155–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Appleton, S., J. Knight, L. Song, and Q. Xia. 2002. “Labor Retrenchment in China: Determinants and Consequences.”China Economic Review 13: 252–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bengtson, V.L. and K.R. Allen. 1993. “The Life Course Perspective Applied to Families Over Time.” Pp. 469–504 inSourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach, edited by P.G. Boss, W.J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W.R. Schumm, and S.K. Steinmetz. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berik, G., X. Dong, and G. Summerfield. 2007. “China’s Transition and Feminist Economics.”Feminist Economics 13: 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bian, Y. and J.R. Logan. 1996. “Market Transition and the Persistence of Power: The Changing Stratification System in UrbanChina.”American Sociological Review 61: 739–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buzar, S., P.E. Ogden, and R. Hall. 2005. “Households Matter: The Quiet Demography of Urban Transformation.”Progress in Human Geography 29: 413–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cai, F., D. Wang, and Y. Du. 2002. “Regional Disparity and Economic Growth in China: The Impact of Labor Market Distortions.”China Economic Review 13(2–3): 197–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cain, M.T. 1978. “The Household Life Cycle and Economic Mobility in Rural Bangladesh.”Population and Development Review 4: 421–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cao, Y. and C. Hu. 2007. “Gender and Job Mobility in Postsocialist China: A Longitudinal Study of Job Changes in Six Coastal Cities.”Social Forces 85: 1535–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chayanov, A.V. 1925.Peasant Farm Organization. Moscow: Cooperative Publishing House.Google Scholar
  11. Chen, F. 2004. “The Division of Labor Between Generations of Women in Rural China.”Social Science Research 33: 557–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chen, F. and G. Liu. 2009. “Population Aging in China.” Pp. 157–72 inThe International Handbook of the Demography of Aging, edited by P. Uhlenberg. New York: Springer Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chen, F., S.E. Short, and B. Entwisle. 2000. “The Impact of Grandparental Proximity on Maternal Childcare in China.”Population Research and Policy Review 19: 571–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cohen, M.L. 1992. “Family Management and Family Division in Contemporary Rural China.”The China Quarterly 130: 357–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Croll, E. 1988. “The New Peasant Economy in China.” Pp. 77–100 inTransforming China’s Economy in the Eighties: The Rural Sector, Welfare, and Employment, edited by S. Feuchtwang, A. Hussain, and T. Pariault. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  16. Davin, D. 1999.Internal Migration in Contemporary China. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  17. De Brauw, A., J. Huang, S. Rozelle, L. Zhang, and Y. Zhang. 2002. “The Evolution of China’s Rural Labor Markets During the Reforms.”Journal of Comparative Economics 30: 329–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. De Brauw, A., Q. Li, C. Liu, S. Rozelle, and L. Zhang. 2008. “Feminization of Agriculture in China? Myths Surrounding Women’s Participation in Farming.”The China Quarterly 194: 327–48.Google Scholar
  19. Desai, S. and D. Jain. 1994. “Maternal Employment and Changes in Family Dynamics: The Social Context of Women’s Work in Rural South-India.”Population and Development Review 20: 115–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dong, X., F. MacPhail, P. Bowles, and S.P.S. Ho. 2004. “Gender Segmentation at Work in China’s Privatized Rural Industry: Some Evidence From Shandong and Jiangsu.”World Development 32: 979–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Eder, J.F. 1999.A Generation Later: Household Strategies and Economic Change in the Rural Philippines. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  22. Elder, G.H. 1999.Children of the Great Depression: Social Change in Life Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  23. Elder, G.H. and M.K. Johnson. 2002. “The Life Course and Human Development: Challenges, Lessons, and New Directions.” Pp. 49–81 inInvitation to the Life Course: Toward New Understandings of Later Life, edited by R.A. Settersten. Amityville, NY: Baywood.Google Scholar
  24. Engelen, T. 2002. “Labour Strategies of Families: A Critical Assessment of an Appealing Concept.”International Review of Social History 47: 453–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Entwisle, B. and F. Chen. 2002. “Work Patterns Following a Birth in Urban and Rural China: A Longitudinal Study.”European Journal of Population 18: 99–119.Google Scholar
  26. Entwisle, B., G.E. Henderson, S.E. Short, J. Bouma, and F. Zhai. 1995. “Gender and Family Businesses in Rural China.”American Sociological Review 60: 36–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Entwisle, B., S.E. Short, F. Zhai, and L. Ma. 2000. “Household Economies in Transitional Times.” Pp. 261–93 inRedrawing Boundaries: Work, Households, and Gender in China, edited by B. Entwisle and G.E. Henderson. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  28. Fan, C.C. 2008.China on the Move: Migration, the State, and the Household. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Fan, S. and X. Zhang. 2004. “Infrastructure and Regional Economic Development in Rural China.”China Economic Review 15: 203–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fricke, T.E., A. Thornton, and D.R. Dahal. 1990. “Family Organization and the Wage Labor Transition in a Tamang Community of Nepal.”Human Ecology 18: 283–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gao, X. 1994. “China’s Modernization and Changes in the Social Status of Rural Women.” Pp. 80–100 inEngendering China: Women, Culture and the State, edited by C.K. Gilmartin, G. Hershatter, L. Rofel, and T. White. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Giles, J., A. Park, and F. Cai. 2006. “Reemployment of Dislocated Workers in Urban China: The Roles of Information and Incentives.”Journal of Comparative Economics 34: 582–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Guang, L. and L. Zheng. 2005. “Migration as the Second-Best Option: Local Power and Off-Farm Employment.”The China Quarterly 181: 22–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hsiao, C. 1986.Analysis of Panel Data. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Jacka, T. 1997.Women’s Work in Rural China: Change and Continuity in an Era of Reform. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Judd, E.R. 1994.Gender and Power in Rural North China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Kandel, W. and G. Kao. 2001. “The Impact of Temporary Labor Migration on Mexican Children’s Educational Aspirations and Performance.”International Migration Review 35: 1205–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Keister, L.A. and V.G. Nee. 2001. “The Rational Peasant in China: Flexible Adaptation, Risk Diversification, and Opportunity.”Rationality and Society 13: 33–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Korinek, K.M., F. Chen, S. Alva, and B. Entwisle. 2006. “Household Economic Transformation and Recent Fertility in Emerging Market Economies: China and Vietnam Compared.”Journal of Comparative Family Studies 37: 191–234.Google Scholar
  40. Lauby, J. and O. Stark. 1988. “Individual Migration as a Family Strategy: Young Women in the Philippines.”Population Studies 42: 473–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Li, H. 2005. “Family Life Cycle and Peasant Income in Socialist China: Evidence From Qin Village.”Journal of Family History 30: 121–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lockwood, M. 1998.Fertility and Household Labour in Tanzania: Demography, Economy and Society in Rufiji District, c. 1870–1986. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  43. Luong, H.V. and J. Unger. 1999. “Wealth, Power, and Poverty in the Transition to Market Economies: The Process of Socio-Economic Differentiation in Rural China and Northern Vietnam.” Pp. 120–52 inTransforming Asian Socialism: China and Vietnam Compared, edited by A. Chan, B.J.T. Kerkvliet, and J. Unger. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  44. Mann, S. 2000. “Work and Household in Chinese Culture: Historical Perspectives.” Pp. 15–32 inRedrawing Boundaries: Work, Households, and Gender in China, edited by B. Entwisle and G.E. Henderson. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  45. Maurer-Fazio, M. and J. Hughes. 2002. “The Effects of Market Liberalization on the Relative Earnings of Chinese Women.”Journal of Comparative Economics 30: 709–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Moen, P. and E. Wethington. 1992. “The Concept of Family Adaptive Strategies.”Annual Review of Sociology 18: 233–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mohapatra, S., S. Rozelle, and R. Goodhue. 2007. “The Rise of Self-employment in China: Development or Distress?”World Development 35: 163–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Montgomery, M.R., M. Gragnolati, K.A. Burke, and E. Paredes. 2000. “Measuring Living Standards With Proxy Variables.”Demography 37: 155–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nee, V. 1996. “The Emergence of a Market Society: Changing Mechanisms of Stratification in China.”American Journal of Sociology 101: 908–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Overfield, D. 1998. “An Investigation of the Household Economy: Coffee Production and Gender Relations in Papua New Guinea.”Journal of Development Studies 34: 52–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Parish, W.L. and E. Michelson. 1996. “Politics and Markets: Dual Transformations.”American Journal of Sociology 101: 1042–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Parish, W.L., X. Zhe, and F. Li. 1995. “Nonfarm Work and Marketization of the Chinese Countryside.”The China Quarterly 143: 697–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Perz, S.G. 2001. “Household Demographic Factors as Life Cycle Determinants of Land Use in the Amazon.”Population Research and Policy Review 20: 159–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Petersen, T. 1993. “Recent Advances in Longitudinal Methodology.”Annual Review of Sociology 19: 425–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rindfuss, R.R. 1991. “The Young Adult Years: Diversity, Structural Change, and Fertility.”Demography 28: 493–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rozelle, S. 1996. “Stagnation Without Equity: Patterns of Growth and Inequality in China’s Rural Economy.”The China Journal 35: 63–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rozelle, S., L. Guo, M. Shen, A. Hughart, and J. Giles. 1999. “Leaving China’s Farms: Survey Results of New Paths and Remaining Hurdles to Rural Migration.”The China Quarterly 158: 367–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sana, M. and D.S. Massey. 2005. “Household Composition, Family Migration, and Community Context: Migrant Remittances in Four Countries.”Social Science Quarterly 86: 509–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shi, A. and S. Bao. 2007. “Migration, Education and Rural Development: Evidence From China 2000 Population Census Data.”Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies 5: 163–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Short, S.E. and F. Zhai. 1996. “Household Production and Household Structure in the Context of China’s Economic Reforms.”Social Forces 75: 691–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Short, S.E., F. Chen, B. Entwisle, and F. Zhai. 2002. “Maternal Work and Child Care in China: A Multi-Method Analysis.”Population and Development Review 28: 31–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shu, X. 2005. “Market Transition and Gender Segregation in Urban China.”Social Science Quarterly 86: 1299–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Smith, J. and I. Wallerstein. 1992. “Households as an Institution of the World Economy.” Pp. 3–23 inCreating and Transforming Households: The Constraints of the World-Economy, edited by J. Smith and I. Wallerstein. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stark, O. 1991.The Migration of Labor. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Press.Google Scholar
  65. Stark, O. and D.E. Bloom. 1985. “The New Economics of Labor Migration.”American Economic Review 75: 173–78.Google Scholar
  66. Stark, O. and R.E.B. Lucas. 1988. “Migration, Remittances and the Family.”Economic Development and Cultural Change 36: 465–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tilly, L.A. 1979. “Individual Lives and Family Strategies in the French Proletariat.”Journal of Family History 4: 137–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Tilly, L.A. and J.W. Scott. 1978.Women, Work, and Family. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  69. Viazzo, P.P. and K.A. Lynch. 2002. “Anthropology, Family History and the Concept of Strategy.”International Review of Social History 47: 423–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Walder, A.G. 2002. “Markets and Income Inequality in Rural China: Political Advantage in an Expanding Economy.”American Sociological Review 67: 231–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Walder, A.G. and L. Zhao. 2006. “Political Office and Household Wealth: Rural China in the Deng Era.”The China Quarterly 186: 357–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Walker, R. and A.K.O. Homma. 1996. “Land Use and Land Cover Dynamics in the Brazilian Amazon: An Overview.”Ecological Economics 18: 67–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Walker, R., S. Perz, M. Caldas, and L.G.T. Silva. 2002. “Land Use and Land Cover Change in Forest Frontiers: The Role of Household Life Cycles.”International Regional Science Review 25: 169–99.Google Scholar
  74. Wallace, C. 2002. “Household Strategies: Their Conceptual Relevance and Analytical Scope in Social Research.”Sociology 36: 275–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wan, G. and Z. Zhou. 2005. “Income Inequality in Rural China: Regression-Based Decomposition Using Household Data.”Review of Development Economics 9: 107–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Wilk, R.W. 1991.Household Ecology: Economic Change and Domestic Life Among the Kekchi Maya of Belize. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  77. Yang, D. 2006. “International Migration, Remittances, and Household Investment: Evidence From Philippine Migrants’ Exchange Rate Shocks.” NBER Working Paper No. 12325. National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  78. Yang, W. 2007. “Institutional Reforms, Agricultural Risks and Agro-Industrial Diversification in Rural China.”Journal of the Asia Pacific Economy 12: 386–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Zhang, J., L. Zhang, S. Rozelle, and S. Boucher. 2006. “Self-employment With Chinese Characteristics: The Forgotten Engine of Rural China’s Growth.”Contemporary Economic Policy 24: 446–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zhang, Y., E.C. Hannum, and M. Wang. 2008. “Gender-Based Employment and Income Differences in Urban China: Considering the Contributions of Marriage and Parenthood.”Social Forces 86: 1529–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Zhou, Y., H. Hua, and S. Harrell. 2008. “From Labour to Capital: Intra-Village Inequality in Rural China, 1988–2006.”The China Quarterly 195: 513–34.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MarylandCollege Park
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of UtahUSA

Personalised recommendations