Son preference in China
Revision for “Son preference in China” created on November 5, 2015 @ 13:37:19
Son preference in China
Despite the old Chinese proverb according to which “Women hold up half the sky”, Chinese families prefer having sons instead of daughters. As a consequence, China faces nowadays millions of missing women, as many of its neighbouring countries.
Son preference is often considered as a recent phenomenon whereas it is an old characteristic of the Chinese society. A long time before the 1979 one-child policy, sex ratio was already unbalanced between boys and girls, due to a high number of infanticides.
Normally, the natural higher proportion of boys at birth is compensated by their higher mortality rate. But in China, girls are more likely to be neglected during their childhood and receive less medical treatments than boys. As a result, the sex ratio, instead of decreasing, grows higher through agesAttané Isabelle, « En Chine, des millions de femmes "manquantes" », Outre-Terre, 2006/2 no 15, p. 471-479..
This unbalance ratio was further reinforced by the introduction of the one-child policy and (consequential) sex-selective abortion. Following the implementation of the one-child policy, sex-selective technology spread in China around 1985. At the same date, sex ratio at birth raised sharply, allowing researchers to think that these methods are used to decide to keep or not the foetus according to its gender.
Taken alone, the one-child policy cannot explain the son preference. In fact, it is necessary to look at social and economic factors to understand the “need” to have a son as it is experienced by many families in China.
The Chinese society is also characterized by the principle of patrilocality, according to which the couple lives in the man’s village. In traditional China, when a woman marries a man, she moves to his clan. In this society, women are seen as a way to continue the lineage, but it is the man who constitutes the social order. As a result, it is preferable for families to have sons instead of daughter, as they will be sure that the lineage will be maintained and the property will stay in the family.
Also, another consequence of patrilocality is that families prefer having sons because they will be able to provide them with old age support. Considering that the new couple moves in with the man’s family, his parents will be sure to have support, whereas the woman’s parents will remain without support from their daughters, in the hypothesis where they only have daughters.