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Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 529–552 | Cite as

Transition to First Marriage in Reform-Era Urban China: The Persistent Effect of Education in a Period of Rapid Social Change

  • Felicia Feng Tian
Article

Abstract

The negative association between education and marriage timing is often explained by an economic independence theory: education provides women with independent economic resources to reject the caregiver role in marriage. However, cross-national evidence shows the importance of cultural and historical continuity in marriage formation. This article examines the relationship between educational attainment and the timing of first marriage in reform-era urban China since the 1980s. Reform-era urban China provides a strong case to examine both theories: it has a strong marriage norm, but it has also experienced a rapid increase in gender inequality in the labor market during the economic reform. Using detailed education and work histories of 3,808 respondents from two waves of the Chinese General Social Survey, this article uses discrete-time hazard regressions to contrast the marriage experience between two cohorts that faced different labor market constraints. The evidence fits better with a path dependence theory. Specifically, the effect of education on marriage timing, for both women and men, is not significantly different between these two cohorts. The results encourage attention to local institutions and local culture in understanding the relationship between conditions in the labor market and marriage formation.

Keywords

Marriage timing Education Labor market Chinese economic reform Family norms 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I thank S. Philip Morgan for his tireless guidance and support. David Brady, James Moody, Christine Bachrach, Regina S. Baker, Ryan M. Finnigan, Lane Destro, members of Duke Structure Workshop, and the PRPR reviewers offered smart and substantive comments on previous drafts. Jennifer Keane and Oxford Editing.com copy edited this article. Earlier versions of this article were presented at American Sociological Association and Southern Demographic Association.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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