“Land Reform and Sex Selection in China” by Shuang Zhang
University of Colorado Boulder
Columbia University & NBER
Following the death of Mao in 1976, agrarian decision-making shifted from the collective to the individual household. This watershed institutional reform proliferated 1978-84, enabling remarkable growth in agricultural output and unprecedented reductions in poverty. We consider whether China’s excess in male births may have responded to rural land reform. In newly-available data on reform timing from over 1,000 counties, we find that a second child following a daughter was 5.5 percent more likely to be a boy after land reform, doubling the prevailing rate of sex selection. Larger increases in sex ratios are found in families with more education and in counties with larger output gains from the reform. Proximately, sex selection was achieved in part through prenatal ultrasounds obtained in provincial capitals and decreased mortality of male children following the reform. The early stages of the One Child Policy likewise proliferated 1978-84, levying financial penalties for third children born in rural areas. The fertility restriction is frequently blamed for increased sex ratios during the early 1980s. We find that land reform’s effect is robust to controlling for the county-level rollout of the fertility policy and suggestive evidence of an interactive effect between the two policies that increased sex selection.