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Sibling gender composition’s effect on education: evidence from China


We use a population survey of the Chinese adult population—2010 Chinese Family Panel Studies (CFPS) modeled after the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. We find that being the oldest child gives an education benefit to male and not female children who are often assigned supervisory roles for younger siblings. Most importantly, an increase in the fraction of female siblings leads to a significant increase in education of Chinese men and to a lesser extent Chinese women. This effect is concentrated among those with rural Hukou. In China, male children absorbed more education resources so that in a credit constrained family, increases in fraction of siblings who are sisters frees up resources for educating boys. This is less so for girls since their education was lower and additional resources would not be used for them.

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  1. Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Hainan, Hong Kong, and Macao were not included.

  2. Even though OCP started from 1979 (it was written into the Constitution in 1982 and was effective since 1983), we used a more strict criteria of 1976 (aged 34) in case OCP had been informally enforced in some areas before 1979.

  3. Note that the Hukou status used here is the Hukou status in 2010, which might be different from the Hukou status at birth due to migration/urbanization. In our regression, we include a dummy for father’s Hukou status to control for such effect.

  4. We observe that the number of siblings are high even for the cohort subject to OCP in urban area, and this is consistent with census 2010. This could be due to three reasons: (1) because we used a very strict year standard to identify the OCP era, the youngest group still include children born before OCP; (2) children born in the OCP era may have older siblings who were born before OCP; (3) as mentioned in footnote 3, a certain fraction of the urban households as defined this way may actually be rural when the child(ren) was/were born, so the number of siblings could still be larger.

  5. The proportion of singletons is 1.8 and 9.4 % for the 1966–1975 (age 35–44) and 1976–1985 (age 25–34) cohorts, respectively. Thus, not surprisingly, including singletons does not significantly change our main results.

  6. The results were very similar when we included a control for number of siblings. Not surprisingly in light of the data summarized above in Tables 3 and 4, an increase in the number of siblings is associated with fewer years of schooling of both male and female respondents, consistent with previous studies (Blake 1989). The standard interpretation is that increasing number of siblings reduces each child’s access to remaining family resources (Cáceres-Delpiano 2006; Li et al. 2008). This effect is stronger in the younger age group, most likely reflecting the fact that there are economies of scale and a reduction of a single sibling is a bigger proportionate effect in the younger sample.

  7. We thank the editor for suggesting to do this test.


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This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging (P01-AG022481 and R37-AG025529) and the Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 71490732 and 2016KEY02). The authors thank the editor and anonymous referees of this journal and recognize their help and guidance.

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Correspondence to James P. Smith.

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Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang



Table 9 Model of mean years of completed education by number and gender of siblings and family background, ages 25–65

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Lei, X., Shen, Y., Smith, J.P. et al. Sibling gender composition’s effect on education: evidence from China. J Popul Econ 30, 569–590 (2017).

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  • Education
  • Siblings
  • China
  • Gender composition

JEL Classification

  • I20
  • I25
  • J16
  • J24