Divorce, Abortion and Sex Ratio at Birth: The Effect of the Amended Divorce Law in China

Philippines Conference Room

This seminar explores whether and to what extent the relative circumstances of men and women following marital dissolution affect sex selection behavior within marriages. China's new divorce law, which was enacted in 2001, reduced divorce costs, especially for women, by granting the right to divorce and claim damages in the case of domestic violence and extra-marital relationships and by securing women's property rights upon divorce. Ang Sun has modeled the legal change as a decrease in women's divorce costs in a household in which all the marital surplus accrues to the husband. Sun shows: (1) that the new divorce law predicts an increase in divorce rates after the birth of a daughter; (2) that the new law results in fewer sex-selective abortions for the second birth if the first birth produced a daughter; and (3) that the effect of the new law on the sex ratio should have diminishing returns to divorce cost reduction for women. All the predictions are supported by the empirical evidence. Most importantly, she finds that most of the decline occurred in historically high divorce-cost regions, which is consistent with the predictions of the model and helps rule out concomitant changes in household income and relative returns to male and female children.

Ang Sun received her PhD from Brown University’s Department of Economics. Sun’s research interests encompass development economics, labor and demographic economics, and health economics. She focuses on intra-household allocations, gender differences, and household formation. In particular, she studies how a combination of different forces in China—including traditional values, rapid growth, and the population structure—is affecting Chinese families.