Volume 44 - Article 25 | Pages 595–608  

Recent trends in the Chinese family: National estimates from 1990 to 2010

By Jia Yu, Yu Xie


Background: Family in China has experienced drastic changes in the past decades. Yet we have limited knowledge of the trends and patterns of the Chinese family in transition.

Objective: This study provides a systematic documentation of the Chinese family in transition by estimating a variety of indicators of marital and fertility behaviors in China, including the singlehood rate, first marriage age, cohabitation rate, divorce rate, and nonmarital childbirth rate.

Methods: We analyze data from the 1990, 2000, and 2010 China Censuses, the 2005 1% China Population Inter-Census Surveys, and the 2010‒2016 China Family Panel Studies.

Results: The results indicate trends of delays in first marriage age and increases in premarital cohabitation in China. Despite below-replacement fertility, childlessness remains rare among married Chinese couples. In addition, almost all children are born and raised within marriage, with a virtual absence of nonmarital childbearing in China. Although we observe a slight increase in divorce across cohorts, the divorce rate within 10 years in China was much lower than in other East Asian societies.

Conclusions: Our research suggests both continuity and changes in marital and childbearing behaviors in China. The trajectory of family changes in China has not followed those in Western countries.

Contribution: This article documents the most recent Chinese family changes and provides national estimates of family behaviors in China.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

'Motherhood penalty' and 'fatherhood premium'? Fertility effects on parents in China
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