Why Is China Missing So Many Women?

The one-child policy (OCP) alone doesn’t account for the shortage of females in the country’s population:

[A]n NBER working paper by economists Douglas Almond, Hongbin Li, and Shuang Zhang makes the case that the roots of the gender imbalance go back farther than the OCP. Specifically, they argue that it was the pro-market land reform policies and breakup of collective farms following the death of Mao Zedong that drove the trend in rural areas — 86 percent of the country’s population at the time. For rural couples, who were allowed to have two children and generally preferred at least one of them to be a boy, the second child was 5.5 percent more likely to be a boy after land reform was introduced in a given area. The introduction of the OCP, which happened around the same time, had an effect as well, but the authors find that it’s almost entirely eliminated when you control for the effect of land reform.

Why exactly land reform had this effect is less clear. The authors consider a number of possibilities including gender bias in land distribution, increase in the demand for male labor, increase in demand for old age support, and the collapse of the rural medical system, but don’t find empirical support for any of them.

More Dish on the state of the one-child policy here.