Volume 41 - Article 26 | Pages 753–780

Childlessness, sex composition of children, and divorce risks in China

By Li Ma, Ester Rizzi, Jani Turunen

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Date received:03 Aug 2018
Date published:12 Sep 2019
Word count:6579
Keywords:childlessness, children, China, divorce risk, sex composition


Background: Studies on children and divorce in China find a negative association between the number of children and divorce and a protective effect of having a son. Nonetheless, we have little knowledge of how these associations have developed over time.

Objective: This study explored the association of the number and sex composition of children with divorce risks in China over the period 1980–2012.

Methods: We conducted an event history analysis of longitudinal data from the China Family Panel Studies.

Results: Childless couples had an increasingly higher divorce risk than couples with children over our observation period. In the 2000s, the divorce risk of childless couples in both urban and rural areas was approximately five times that of one-child parents. The role of the child’s gender differs for urban and rural one-child parents, with no significant effect on the divorce risk of urban parents and different effects over time for rural parents.

Conclusions: Our findings show that ending a marriage when having no children has become an increasingly pronounced trend. Furthermore, partially due to the rapid socioeconomic and demographic progress and the rise of girls’ empowerment, the child’s gender has lost importance for the divorce risk of urban parents.

Contribution: This study enriches our knowledge about the association between children and divorce risks in a rapidly developing society. Indirectly, the study also informs us about the evolution of son preference in China.

Author's Affiliation

Li Ma - Karlstads Universitet, Sweden [Email]
Ester Rizzi - Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium [Email]
Jani Turunen - Södertörns högskola, Sweden [Email]

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