Son preference in rural China: patrilineal families and socioeconomic change.
ABSTRACT This article draws on a survey conducted in six provinces in summer 2008 to investigate the determinants of son preference in rural China. The analysis confirms the conventional wisdom that son preference is embedded within patrilineal family structures and practices. We extend our analysis by exploring specific aspects of variation within patrilineal family culture. We find that the patrilineal group (clan) composition of villages and family participation in practices such as building ancestral halls and updating genealogies significantly influence son preference. Yet even though son preference is embedded within patrilineal family culture, our analysis suggests that over time the attenuation of son preference is likely. This is because determinants associated with socioeconomic change—for instance, higher levels of education, direct exposure to official policy education materials, higher income (a proxy for rural industrialization), and agricultural mechanization—all attenuate son preference. Being younger and female are also associated with weaker son preference, and both characteristics are likely to interact with education and industrialization to further dilute son preference in the longer term. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that concerted efforts are needed to ameliorate institutional discrimination against rural people in welfare provisioning and in labor markets, and to promote multiple dimensions of gender equality, including in land rights, wage rates, and education.