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Why are Returns to Education Higher for Women than for Men in Urban China?
China Quarterly (2012)
  • Emily C. Hannum, University of Pennsylvania
  • Zhang Yuping, Lehigh University
  • Wang Meiyan, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

It is well established that women’s returns to education are higher than men’s in urban China. We argue that this finding, while accurate, is misleading due to its individualist perspective. The incomes to which most working-age women and men have access include not only own income, but spouse income. Further, decisions about participation and investment in the labor force, both consequential for income trajectories, are likely made with partner income and potential income in mind. To our knowledge, no research in China has explored the returns to education enjoyed via spouse income, or the implications of pooling couple income, for illuminating the returns to schooling difference for women and men.

In this paper, using data from the China Urban Labor Survey (2001), we argue that women’s returns, conventionally defined, are higher than men’s because many women trade own income for spouse income, and this is particularly true among less educated women. We demonstrate, first, that women who are more educated are less likely to get married, while the reverse is true for men. Second, we show that among couples, there is evidence of a tradeoff in investments in careers. Moreover, among couples, the less educated the woman and the more educated the man, the less likely the couple is to depend heavily on her income. Finally, we show that among couples there is a compensating reverse pattern of returns differences by sex when income is conceptualized as spouse income. Thus, in terms of total couple income, there are no returns differences by sex.

  • gender,
  • returns to education,
  • labor market,
  • family
Publication Date
Citation Information
Emily C. Hannum, Zhang Yuping and Wang Meiyan. "Why are Returns to Education Higher for Women than for Men in Urban China?" China Quarterly Vol. Forthcoming (2012)
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