Volume 38 - Article 1 | Pages 1–26

Still under the ancestors' shadow? Ancestor worship and family formation in contemporary China

By Anning Hu, Felicia Tian

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Date received:11 Jan 2017
Date published:03 Jan 2018
Word count:6941
Keywords:ancestor worship, childbearing, first marriage entry, son preference


Background: Ancestor worship in China used to be an indispensable component of marriage and family life because it fostered an orientation toward perpetuating the family line. However, whether or not ancestor worship still matters in contemporary China is an open question.

Objective: This article presents a comprehensive study of the association between ancestor worship practices and 1) the timing of transition to first marriage, 2) the pattern of childbearing, and 3) the orientation toward son preference.

Methods: Drawing on the adult sample from the Chinese Family Panel Studies 2010, several multivariate models (Cox proportional hazard model, probit regression model, negative binomial regression models, and ordered probit model) were fitted, corresponding to different types of outcome.

Results: All else being equal, involvement in ancestor worship practices is correlated with 1) an early transition to marriage, 2) a larger number of children, 3) a higher probability of having at least one son, and 4) a larger number of sons.

Conclusions: The relevance of the kinship tradition to family formation persists in contemporary China and has not faded away.

Contribution: By highlighting the demographic implications of ancestor worship, this study illustrates the ongoing connection between culture and demography.

Author's Affiliation

Anning Hu - Fudan University, China [Email]
Felicia Tian - Fudan University, China [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Transition to adulthood in China in 1982−2005: A structural view
Volume 34 - Article 16

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