Does population control lead to better child quality? Evidence from China's one-child policy enforcement

Bingjing Li, Hongliang ZHANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Scholarly evidence on the quantity-quality trade-off is mixed in part because of the identification challenge due to endogenous family size. This paper provides new evidence of the causal effect of child quantity on child quality by exploiting regional differences in the enforcement intensity of China's one-child policy (OCP) as an exogenous source of variation in family size. Using the percentage of current mothers of primary childbearing age who gave a higher order birth in 1981, we construct a quantitative indicator of the extent of local violation of the OCP, referred to as the excess fertility rate (EFR). We then use regional differences in EFRs, net differences in pre-existing fertility preferences and socio-economic characteristics, to proxy for regional differences in OCP enforcement intensity. Using micro data from the Chinese Population Censuses, we find that prefectures with stricter enforcement of the OCP have experienced larger declines in family size and also greater improvements in children's education. Despite the evident trade-off between family size and child quality in China, our quantitative estimates suggest that China's OCP makes only a modest contribution to the development of its human capital.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-260
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Comparative Economics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Economics and Econometrics

User-Defined Keywords

  • Child education
  • Family planning
  • Quantity-quality trade-off


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