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The Cultural Revolution and the Timing of First Marriage in China

Abstract

This paper empirically studies the impact of the exposure to the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) on the timing of first marriage in China. We find that the first marriages of cohorts born in the 1946–1961 period were delayed, on average, by 1.2–2 years. We also find heterogeneous effects across population subgroups because of various historical events such as school closures, the Sent-Down Movement, and class discrimination. People affected by these circumstances showed greater delays in first marriage than those who were not. In addition, women in urban areas faced particularly substantial delays in the timing of first marriage. These findings are robust to different identification strategies and model specifications.

Résumé

Cet article étudie empiriquement l’impact de l’exposition à la Révolution culturelle (1966–1976) sur le calendrier du premier mariage en Chine. Nos résultats indiquent que les premiers mariages des cohortes fortement touchées par la Révolution culturelle (nés entre 1946 et 1961) ont retardé le premier mariage de 1,2 à 2 ans en moyenne. Nous constatons également des effets hétérogènes entre différents sous-groupes de la population chinoise en raison des événements tel que les fermetures d’écoles, le mouvement « Sent-Down» et la discrimination de classe. Les personnes touchées par ces circonstances ont enregistré des retards plus importants dans le premier mariage. Par ailleurs, les femmes dans les zones urbaines ont connu des retards plus importants que dans les zones rurales. Nos résultats sont robustes à différentes stratégies d’identification et spécifications de modèles.

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Data availability

Our data and code are available through email from Dr. Zhou when requested.

Code Availability

Our data and code are available through email from Dr. Zhou when requested.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Similar patterns are observed in urban and rural areas, and for each cohort born after 1955 (see Figures A1-A3 in Appendix A).

  2. 2.

    In 1980, a new law changed the legal age at first marriage to 22 years for men and to 20 years for women. Until 2015, furlough benefits and financial allowances were provided as rewards for delaying marriage and giving birth to only one child, since the introduction of the 1980 Marriage Law and the One Child Policy, respectively.

  3. 3.

    The hukou system classifies every individual living in China in one of two groups: agricultural and non-agricultural. In general, individuals with agricultural hukous were born in rural areas to parents engaged in farming, received education in rural areas, and mostly worked in the agricultural sector, while most people with non-agricultural hukous lived in urban areas. Despite controlling for migration status, changes in hukou due to the urbanization process may potentially increase the difference between our estimates for two subsamples.

  4. 4.

    There is a potential contamination of regional classifications resulting from subsequent urbanization and attrition. The attrition referred to here is the permanent loss of observation. For instance, people who come from a discriminated social class might have died earlier because they had been attacked and publicly shamed, leading to health problems or even death. In extreme cases, some of them might have died as a result of persecutions during the CR. There is also the possibility that some might have escaped abroad. As a result, our estimates of the social class “background” might be downward biased.

  5. 5.

    We have evaluated samples with different age spans as well as different exposures and obtained consistent findings. Nevertheless, we control for the sex ratio at birth in counties (and in the urban/rural population and agricultural/non-agricultural population, for respective subsamples) as a robustness check, because the usage of such a variable may lead to further loss of observations. The main results are not altered by the addition of this variable. However, the proposed measure is only a rough proxy for the real sex-ratio measures faced by the individuals during their marriage year in their marriage markets. These values are not available in the existing datasets. Results are available upon request.

  6. 6.

    Detailed approaches for index construction, relevant data processing procedures, and estimations with alternative datasets are provided in Appendix B. More results using the 2005 Census, other subsamples, and alternative model specifications are available on request.

  7. 7.

    School_Closure_Intensity is computed based on the timing of secondary school closure and the regional education attainments. Send_Down_Intensity is measured as the product of the probability of being sent down to rural areas and the average stay duration for each birth cohort and province. In the lower panel of Table 4, years of sent-down is thus equal to zero if the individual has been exposed to the CR (born in 1946–1961) but was not sent down to the countryside. Cases where being sent down to the countryside was reported after 1979 or lasted longer than 16 years are discarded.

  8. 8.

    See the distributions of the age at first marriage over cohorts in Appendix A, Figure A3 and life stage identification strategies in Appendix B, Figure B6. We use the ratio of the total number of years that a person spent during the CR (1966–1976) in the adolescence phase (11–20 years old) and in adulthood (21–30 years old) to the total length of the CR (11 years); we then apply baseline regressions with the samples from subgroups 1–3 respectively. Results are available upon request.

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Acknowledgements

We are incredibly grateful to the referees and editor for their insightful comments. We thank for all the discussants in the 2016 Annual Camphor Economists Circle Workshop in Guangzhou as well as 2015 conference of “Ageing and Health: Policy and Economics in an Era of Longevity” in Shanghai for their insightful comments. In addition, we would like to thank the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the China Institute for Income Distribution, and the Chinese Family Panel Studies of Peking University for providing their data. All mistakes are our own.

Funding

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71703100) received by Dong Zhou and National Social Science Foundation of China (grant number: 16CSH072) received by Xue Li.

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Correspondence to Dong Zhou.

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Li, X., Zhou, D. The Cultural Revolution and the Timing of First Marriage in China. Can. Stud. Popul. 48, 265–291 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42650-021-00046-y

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Keywords

  • Cultural Revolution
  • Marital delay
  • Adolescent
  • Sent-down Movement
  • Class discrimination
  • School closure

Mots-clés

  • Révolution culturelle
  • Report du mariage
  • Adolescent
  • Mouvement Sent-Down
  • Discrimination de classe
  • Fermeture des écoles