Fertility Transition and the Transformation of Working Class Family Life in Urban China in the 1960s

  • Wang Danning


This paper applies demographer A.J. Coale’s theory of fertility transition to a study of the urban fertility transition that occurred in Tianjin, China in the 1960s. It uses a historical perspective to situate this grand transition within a political and economic context. A macro-analysis reveals how the socialist urban economy produced economic incentives that motivated families to adopt contraceptive methods independent of government family planning policy. At the local level, ethnographic data collected from a working class neighborhood demonstrate the daily social mechanisms that facilitated the emergence of this new economic value, which, in turn, legitimized the moral acceptability of contraception. When the state initiated two family planning programs in the 1960s to advocate birth control in the coastal cities, working class families in Tianjin were ready and willing to accept these new policies and adopted various contraceptive methods to control family size. Overall, this paper argues that the state’s implementation of its population policies was not the direct and primary causal factor behind the urban fertility transition in China. The remarkable degree of activism and agency shown by individual families should not be ignored, and the framework for understanding the grand fertility transition should be holistic, taking into consideration social, political, and economic factors.


Family Size Contraceptive Method Cultural Revolution Family Planning Program Fertility Transition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Ethnographic research of this project was funded by the Population Council. An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the workshop “Daughter’s Worth Re-evaluated: Changing Intergenerational Relations and Expectations in Contemporary China” at the J.K. Fairbank Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 5–6, 2003. I was encouraged by the feedbacks that the workshop participants provided. Special thanks go to Hong Zhang, the workshop organizer, Martin K. Whyte, the discussant, and James Watson, Rubie Watson, and Harriet Evans. I am also grateful to my dissertation advisor Jane Schneider, the dissertation committee members Shirley Lindenbaum, Gerald Creed, Joan Mencher, and the dissertation outside reader Myron Cohen for their guidance and supports. Luigi Tomba, Janet Salaff, and two anonymous reviewers read the manuscript and gave me their invaluable critiques. I also thank Zhixiong Cai and Bonnie Walker for their editorial comments. Of course, all the remaining errors would be mine.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese University of Hong KongSha TinChina

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