Essays on Culture, Human Capital and Development in China



Xue, Melanie Meng

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My dissertation focuses on the history and culture of modern and imperial China. It comprises three distinct chapters each focusing on a different subject. Chapter 1 examines how textile production shaped and continues to shape attitudes towards women as reflected in the sex ratio and in attitudes towards female labor market participation in today’s China. Chapter 2 studies the Imperial Examination System and the effect of the Literary Inquisition during the Qing period. Chapter 3 studies the phenomenon of ‘Dragon Babies’ documenting the factors that have shaped this modern manifestation of tradition cultural beliefs. In Chapter 1, I test the hypothesis that emergence of historical textile production led to an increase in gender equality. I exploit exogenous variation in historical textile production at the county level to casually identify the effect of textiles on gender equality past and present. I find that historical textile production is positively correlated with female labor participation, and negatively correlated with sex ratio imbalances and sex-specific parental investment. My results are robust to various robustness checks, propensity score matching, instrumental variable analyses, and micro-level analyses. I identify cultural transmission as a possible channel of the persistence effect of historical textile production on today’s gender equality and gender norms. In Chapter 2, I use a semiparametric matching-based difference-in-differences estimator to show that the persecution of scholar-officials led to a decline in the number of examinees at the provincial and prefectural level. To explore the long-run impact of literary inquisitions I employ a model to show that persecutions could reduce the provision of basic education and have a lasting effect on human capital accumulation. Using the 1982 census I find that literary inquisitions reduced literacy by between 2.25 and 4 percentage points at a prefectural level in the early 20th century. Prefectures affected by the literary inquisition had a higher proportion of workers in agriculture until the 1990s. In Chapter 3, I study why China suddenly exhibited a large surge in births–a 50% increase in 2000 relative to 1999–in the 2000 Year of the Dragon by disaggregating birth rates at the city level. I define the dragon effect as a relative jump in birth rates compared to the trend. Prior to 2000, Asian nations with large numbers of ethnic Chinese — but not China — exhibited strong dragon effects. I exploit the uneven economic growth of regions in China to understand the emergence of the dragon effect. I find the dragon effect was most pronounced in rapidly developing cities with higher incomes, higher average education, and greater employment prospects. A micro-level analysis also suggests the dragon effect is positively correlated with educational attainment and income.



Institutions, Cultural norms, Human capital, Historical persistence, Fertility, China