Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 545–570 | Cite as

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

  • Albert I. Hermalin
  • Deborah S. LowryEmail author


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.


Tobacco China East Asia Diffusion theory Gender “Modern girl” 



Special thanks to Dr. Hong-jun Cho and Dr. Makoto Atoh for their help obtaining data and to Dr. John Casterline for valuable comments on an earlier draft. We are grateful to Jason Kung for assistance with translation and obtaining materials, and to Charles Yoo for translation work. We also thank Yan Fu and Lee J. Ridley for help acquiring materials, and the University of Michigan Population Studies Center for providing support for translation. Support for this project was also provided by the National Institute on Aging (T32 AG000221) to Deborah Lowry. The authors gratefully acknowledge use of the services and facilities of the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan, funded by NICHD Center Grant R24 HD041028. Data used for this research was provided by the longitudinal study entitled “Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey” (CLHLS) managed by the Center for Healthy Aging and Family Studies, Peking University. CLHLS is supported by funds from Duke University under an award from the U.S. National Institutes on Aging (NIA)(R01 AG23627-01; PI: Zeng Yi), and by China Natural Science Foundation, China Social Science Foundation, UNFPA, and Hong Kong Research Grant Council. This is a substantially revised version of a Population Studies Center Research Report (10-718) : The Age Prevalence of Smoking among Chinese Women : A Case of Arrested Diffusion? (October , 2010).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.University of MontevalloMontevalloUSA

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