Covered by: Marginal Revolution, Conversable Economist
What are the origins of gender-biased social norms? As a painful custom that persisted in historical China, foot-binding targeted girls whose feet were reshaped during early childhood. This paper presents a unified theory to explain the stylized facts of foot-binding, and investigates its historical dynamics driven by a gender-asymmetric mobility system in historical China (the Civil Examination System). The exam system marked the transition from heredity aristocracy to meritocracy, generated a more heterogeneous composition of men compared to that of women, and triggered intensive competition among women in the marriage market. As a competition package carrying both aesthetic and moral values, foot-binding was gradually adopted by women as their social ladder, first in upper class and later by lower class. However, since foot-binding impedes nonsedentary labor but not sedentary labor, its adoption in lower class exhibited distinctive regional variation: it was highly prevalent in regions where women specialized in household handicraft, and was less popular in regions where women specialized in intensive farming, e.g. rice cultivation. Empirically, we conduct analysis using county-level Republican archives on foot-binding to test the cross-sectional predictions of our theory, and major findings are robust and consistent with key theoretical predictions.
Political Movement and Trust Formation: Evidence from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) (with Liang Bai) [pdf]
This paper examines the effect of political movement on trust formation, in the context of China's Cultural Revolution (1966-76), an influential political upheaval that involved widespread conflict and incentivized non-cooperative behavior. Combining both county-level variation in revolutionary intensity and cohort-level variation in trust formation ages, we construct individual exposure to the revolution using a difference-in-differences strategy. Our findings indicate that individuals in counties with higher revolution intensity and of trust formation cohorts trust significantly less. This effect is more pronounced for those more likely to have been targeted during the revolution (the bad class origins) as well as those with greater exposure to its early years (1966-71). The results are robust after accounting for the dynamic effects of pre-revolution socio-economic characteristics, an extensive set of region-specific cohort trends, placebo tests, and potential reporting bias.
Political Conflict and Development Dynamics: Economic Legacies of the Cultural Revolution (with Liang Bai) [pdf]
As one of the most influential socio-political movements in 20th-century China, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) resulted in widespread conflict. This paper investigates its economic legacies, utilizing county-level variation in revolutionary intensity, as measured by the number of resulting deaths. After constructing a county-level panel of industrialization (1953-2000), we use a generalized difference-in-differences strategy to estimate the revolution's dynamic effects on economic development. The results show that worse-affected counties performed at least as well during the pre-revolution periods, but were slower to industrialize afterwards. The effects were largest in 1982, and decline through 1990 and 2000. Further using individual-level census and survey data, and combining cohort and regional variation in revolutionary intensity, we find cohorts with more exposure are less likely to obtain higher education degrees, less likely to take up professional and entrepreneurial occupations.
Are Only Children More Depressed? Evidence from China’s One-Child Policy (with Albert Park)
Sib-ship structure plays a significant role in children’s psychological development. This paper examines the causal effect of growing up as an only child on subjective well-being outcomes, with the latter measured by self-rated happiness and depression. Considering the endogeneity issue of fertility choice within family, we take advantage of the exogenous fertility shock of China’s One-Child Policy with both time and regional variation. Since the counterfactual of singletons are first-borns with successive siblings, we closely pay attention to the first-born sample. Our results illustrate that being an only child can significantly decrease one’s subjective well-being, and more intensive exposure to the One-Child Policy makes individuals more depressed and less happy. However, while the One-Child Policy has negative effect on children’s happiness and mental health, its effect on children’s years of schooling does not stand out.