Volume 42 - Article 22 | Pages 657–688

The educational differential in fertility in transitional China: Temporal and regional variation

By Jianlin Niu, Yaqiang Qi

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Date received:29 Jun 2019
Date published:31 Mar 2020
Word count:9172
Keywords:education, educational differences, fertility transition, low fertility, parity progression ratio


Background: Education expansion has contributed significantly to fertility decline during the worldwide fertility transition. Yet, it is less clear whether the educational gradient in fertility remains stable and persists in the post-transition era. In light of the rapid education expansion in many low-fertility countries, the education–fertility nexus becomes increasingly relevant to demographic and socioeconomic prospects.

Objective: In this study we investigate the education–fertility relationship in China by focusing on its robustness in different socio-institutional contexts both during and after the demographic transition.

Methods: We use the cohort parity progression ratios (PPRs) to unveil women’s reproduction progress over the life course. The PPRs are estimated for each educational group, jointly classified by cohort, period, place of residence, and province, using China’s census and mini-census data between 1982 and 2015. We fit multilevel models to investigate the education–fertility relationship and to explore its temporal and contextual variation.

Results: We find strong empirical support for a negative association between women’s education and each of the successive PPRs in China, both during and after the course of fertility transition. Nevertheless, the strength of the relationship changes over time, particularly for second and higher order births. The education–fertility link also varies profoundly by contextual features.

Contribution: This study extends the literature by exploring the potential dynamics and structural variation of the education–fertility link from demographically transitional to post-transition China. The results provide a panoramic picture of fertility change in China, and insights that lead to a better understanding of world population prospects in the post-transition era.

Author's Affiliation

Jianlin Niu - Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), China [Email]
Yaqiang Qi - Renmin University of China, China [Email]

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