Volume 44 - Article 8 | Pages 189–224  

Family status and women’s career mobility during urban China’s economic transition

By Guangye He, Xiaogang Wu

This article is part of the Special Collection 30 "Family Changes and Inequality in East Asia"


Background: In contrast to the historical experience of Western welfare states, where social and family policies help create more integrated public–private spheres, marketization in China has presented a case of sphere separation. This phenomenon has important implications for the dynamics of gender inequality in economic transition.

Objective: This article examines how family status is associated with women’s career mobility in reform-era urban China and the impact of family on women’s career choices across different reform stages.

Methods: Based on retrospective data from the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) in 2008, we adopt discrete-time logit models to examine the effects of marriage and childbearing on women’s upward mobility, the risk of labor market exit, and how the effects vary over time.

Results: Chinese women in the workforce are adversely affected by marriage and having dependent children. They are more likely than men to experience (involuntary, in particular) job exit to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers and less likely to move up in the career ladder. This pattern is more prominent as the economic reform proceeds.

Conclusions: Marketization has adversely affected Chinese women’s career outcomes by increasing work–family tension after the work unit (danwei) system and socialist programs that supported working women were scrapped.

Contribution: This study is one of the few empirical studies to attempt to explain the widening gender gap in China’s job market from the perspective of family using the two-sphere separation framework. The framework originated in Western family studies but has been adapted to suit the context of urban China.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Marriage in an immigrant society: Education and the transition to first marriage in Hong Kong
Volume 37 - Article 18

Not a zero-sum game: Migration and child well-being in contemporary China
Volume 38 - Article 26

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