Chinese women could ‘lose equal opportunity to education’ after birth control is lifted
In China, a traditional preference for boys did not change much under one child policy for so many years. With birth control expected to be phased out gradually, there is concern opportunities for women to attain high-level education may be further crippled.

Since China’s opening up and reform, it has been argued that the traditional idea of looking up to men and down on women has been changed with strict birth control and intensive government propaganda that “it’s same to have a baby boy or girl.”

Some people have concluded that gender equality has been achieved in education. For example, in recent years, statistics show that over 50 percent of those enrolling into post-graduate and graduate programs are female. On the other hand, it has been revealed that China’s long-standing imbalance in sex ratio at birth still shows many families’ obvious preference for boys.

Zheng Xiaoting, the associate professor of the Jinan University in south China’s Guangzhou, co-authored with Lu Xiaohui the Study on Gender Discrimination in Families’ Human Capital Investment. In her view, if families with only daughters have no way to be partial to boys and so allow their daughters more educational resources and opportunities, the resulting gender balance doesn’t mean Chinese families do not anymore prefer boys.

The study argues that China’s skewed sex ratio at birth has remained a problem although it’ believed that the birth of certain number of girls were intentionally concealed from the authorities. The study shows that the gender imbalance at birth has expanded especially after the 1990s, when b-ultrasound scanners became widely used in China, allowing parents to identify the gender of their unborn baby. Many domestic and international media reported that some families anxious to have boys would not report baby girls’ birth or even use abortion to kill female fetus.

“Against this backdrop, females get more change to attain higher levels of education. However, the introduction of the B-ultrasound technology has enabled many families to ‘determine gender’ of their unborn children, bringing China the world’s most imbalanced sex ratio at birth,” Zheng wrote in the report.

She found that a preference to boys still exists universally in China, although in certain cases, the opportunities to ‘exercise’ sexual prejudice’ are limited, which explains the now contradictory phenomena.

The China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) keeps track of data collected from individuals, families and communities that are indicative of changes in China’s society, economy, population, education and public health. Zheng and her co-author used the CFPS data in 2010 to demonstrate that for women with male siblings, the length of schooling years is considerably shorter compared with those who’re a single child or only have sisters. Zheng concluded there was apparently “boy preference” in families’ investment in human capital, or children’s education.

Meanwhile, after taking into consideration certain variables like parents’ educational levels, careers, nationalities and birth intervals, the study found that irrespective of the level of education, having brothers would considerably affect girls’ access to educational opportunities and resources.

Also, it’s noted that the phenomenon is visible mainly in China’ rural areas, considering most urban families have only one child and relatively higher household income would not force them to choose between sons and daughters for better education.

With family planning decreasing the number of births, a female has smaller chance to have brothers. In this case, China’s birth control policy factually reduced the ‘sexual prejudice’ in children’s education and boosted the opportunities for women to be equally educated like men.

The current adjustments to the family planning policy are regarded as one of the measures to relieve the country’s aging population. However, with the birth control being removed, efforts to strike a balance between the quality and quantity of children would begin to play a role. And girls’ opportunities to be well-educated could thus be affected.

Zheng called on the authorities to continue to push and advocate for gender equality after birth restrictions are lifted. 


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