The One-Child Policy and Gender Equality in Education in China: Evidence from Household Data


This paper uses individual-level data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey and examines the impact of the one-child policy on gender equality in education in China. The results showed children in one-child households enjoyed significantly improved opportunities for education compared to children inside multiple-child households. The improvement for girls was larger than that of boys. In addition, we found no difference in years of schooling between only-child boys and only-child girls, whereas the gap between boys and girls inside multiple-child households remained significant. In particular, years of schooling for girls having male sibling(s) were 0.62 years lower than that of girls having female sibling(s). These findings suggest the one-child policy inadvertently contributed to greater educational gender equality in China.

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  1. 1.

    Most of the children (95%) are the only child in their households.

  2. 2.

    As a comparison, according to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of one-child family in the US rose from roughly 10% to 23% between 1980 and 2000. In larger cities like New York, San Francisco and L.A., about 30% of families have a single child. While the US is a highly developed country, its percentage of only children as well as the increase in the percentage of only children were both substantially lower than those of China. It also took a long span of time for other highly developed countries such as Western European countries to see their fertility rates drop to a low level (from about 3 in 1960 to 1.5 in 2005) (EUphact).

  3. 3.

    The data is downloadable from the website of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

  4. 4.

    The ages of our samples range from 22 to 28 during the last wave of the survey (2006), which implies that the years of schooling of a portion of our samples may be censored. We choose the OLS specification and not the Tobit specification in this paper because the estimation results of OLS and Tobit specifications are very similar, but the OLS estimates are more straightforward to interpret and compare.

  5. 5.

    These control variables are time-varying variables and should continuously affect the year of schooling of children. However, given the OLS estimation strategy we have chosen, we use data at a specific age for each child (that is, 15 or 16 years old, depending on the age of the child in the survey year.) Elementary school and middle school are both compulsory, whereas high school or above is optional. Hence, enrollment in high school or above is more likely to be affected by outside factors. Therefore, we use data from when each child is around fifteen, which is the age when the decision regarding high school enrollment must be made.

  6. 6.

    Our computation is based on the condition that the emergence of all only children was due to the one-child policy. Therefore, our estimation results should be viewed as the upper bound of the true impact of the one-child policy.


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Correspondence to Ming-Hsuan Lee.

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Lee, M. The One-Child Policy and Gender Equality in Education in China: Evidence from Household Data. J Fam Econ Iss 33, 41–52 (2012).

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  • Gender equality in education
  • One child policy
  • Son preference