IFPRI Researcher Alerts The Economist to Link between China’s Frugality and Shortage of Brides

March 7, 2010

The Economist magazine, citing work by IFPRI research fellow Xiaobo Zhang, reports that China’s skewed sex ratio is having some unexpected consequences. “It has probably increased China’s savings rate,” the magazine says, because parents with a single son save to increase his chances of attracting a wife in the country’s ultra-competitive marriage market. Zhang and fellow researcher Shang-Jin Wei of Columbia University compared the savings rates of households with sons against those of families with daughters. They found not only that homes with sons save more than those with daughters in all parts of the country, but also that households with sons tend to raise their savings rate if they also happen to live in a region with a more skewed sex ratio. Their findings appear in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

Zhang and Wei calculate that about half the increase in China’s savings in the past 25 years can be attributed to the rise in the sex ratio. “If true,” says the Economist, “this would suggest that economic-policy changes to boost consumption will be less effective than the government hopes.”

Zhang’s work appears as part of a broader examination of what the magazine calls “gendercide” (it borrows the term from a 1985 book by Mary Anne Warren). Technology, declining fertility, and ancient prejudice are combining in a “worldwide war against baby girls,” the weekly says in its March 4, 2010 edition.