, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 1535–1557 | Cite as

Estimating the Effect of the One-Child Policy on the Sex Ratio Imbalance in China: Identification Based on the Difference-in-Differences

  • Hongbin Li
  • Junjian Yi
  • Junsen ZhangEmail author


In China, the male-biased sex ratio has increased significantly. Because the one-child policy applies only to the Han Chinese but not to minorities, this unique affirmative policy allows us to identify the causal effect of the one-child policy on the increase in sex ratios by using a difference-in-differences (DD) estimator. Using the 1990 census, we find that the strict enforcement of the one-child policy led to 4.4 extra boys per 100 girls in the 1980s, accounting for about 94% of the total increase in sex ratios during this period. The robust tests indicate that the estimated policy effect is not likely confounded by other omitted policy shocks or socioeconomic changes. Moreover, we conduct the DD estimation using both the 2000 census and the 2005 mini-census. Our estimates suggest that the one-child policy resulted in about 7.0 extra boys per 100 girls for the 1991–2005 birth cohorts. The effect of the one-child policy accounts for about 57% and 54% of the total increases in sex ratios for the 1991–2000 and 2001–2005 birth cohorts, respectively.


One-child policy Sex ratio imbalance Difference-in-differences estimator 



The work described in this article was substantially supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. CUHK 454608). We thank the editors and two anonymous referees for valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics, School of Economics and ManagementTsinghua UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsThe Chinese University of Hong KongSha TinHong Kong

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