Sex Roles

, Volume 77, Issue 11–12, pp 765–778 | Cite as

Unequal Care, Unequal Work: Toward a more Comprehensive Understanding of Gender Inequality in Post-Reform Urban China

  • Yingchun JiEmail author
  • Xiaogang Wu
  • Shengwei Sun
  • Guangye He
Feminist Forum Review Article


Over the last four decades, as China has transitioned from a socialist centralized economy to a productivity-and-efficiency-oriented market economy, so too have the country’s public and private spheres become increasingly differentiated. Although others attribute changing gender inequality to the market transition, we draw from Chinese feminist critical analyses and propose a theoretical framework regarding how the two-sphere separation in contemporary China, embedded in how gender equality was organized in the socialist time, has been driven by the state and is further justified by changing gender ideologies. We review the existing literature and identify gaps in research on how women’s disadvantages in the public and private spheres—in the labor market and within the family—mutually reinforce each other in post-reform urban China. We also discuss how the dynamics of, and interactions between, the two spheres are justified by a changing gender ideology. Finally, by exploring gender inequality in the process of the two-sphere separation in a transitional context, we make an important contribution to the general sociological and gender literature.


Public and private spheres Gender inequality Labor market Motherhood penalty Family Gender ideology 



Research for the present paper was supported by the Program for Professor of Special Appointment (Eastern Scholar) at the Shanghai Institutions of Higher Learning (No. TP2015032), and the Key Project by the National Social Science Foundation of China (15AZD080).

Guangye He would like to thank a Post-doctoral Fellowship Matching Fund (PDF) from Office of Vice President for Research & Graduate Studies, HKUST. Xiaogang Wu would like to thank the RGC for financial support from the General Research Fund (GRF 16600117).

Special thanks go to Prof. Suowei Xiao at the Beijing Normal University, Prof. Yihong Jin at the Nanjing Normal University, and Prof. Feinian Chen at the University of Maryland, College Park.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Sociology and Political ScienceShanghai UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Division of Social ScienceHong Kong University of Science & TechnologyHong KongChina
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of Maryland at College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  4. 4.School of Social and Behavioral ScienceNanjing UniversityNanjingChina

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