Family sources of educational gender inequality in rural China: A critical assessment

Abstract

In this paper, we investigate the gender gap in education in rural northwest China. We first discuss parental perceptions of abilities and appropriate roles for girls and boys; parental concerns about old-age support; and parental perceptions of different labor market outcomes for girls’ and boys’ education. We then investigate gender disparities in investments in children, children's performance at school, and children's subsequent attainment. We analyze a survey of 9–12-year-old children and their families conducted in rural Gansu Province in the year 2000, along with follow-up information about subsequent educational attainment collected 7 years later. We complement our main analysis with two illustrative case studies of rural families drawn from 11 months of fieldwork conducted in rural Gansu between 2003 and 2005 by the second author.

In 2000, most mothers expressed egalitarian views about girls’ and boys’ rights and abilities, in the abstract. However, the vast majority of mothers still expected to rely on sons for old-age support, and nearly one in five mothers interviewed agreed with the traditional saying, “Sending girls to school is useless since they will get married and leave home.” Compared to boys, girls faced somewhat lower (though still very high) maternal educational expectations and a greater likelihood of being called on for household chores. However, there was little evidence of a gender gap in economic investments in education. Girls rivaled or outperformed boys in academic performance and engagement. Seven years later, boys had attained just about a third of a year more schooling than girls—a quite modest advantage that could not be fully explained by early parental attitudes and investments, or student performance or engagement. Fieldwork confirmed that parents of sons and daughters tended to have high aspirations for their children. Parents sometimes viewed boys as having greater aptitude, but tended to view girls as having more dedication—an attribute parents perceived as being critical for educational success. Findings suggest that at least in Gansu, rural parental educational attitudes and practices toward boys and girls are more complicated and less uniformly negative for girls than commonly portrayed.

Citation

Hannum, E.; Kong, P.; Zhang, Y. Family sources of educational gender inequality in rural China: A critical assessment. International Journal of Educational Development (2009) 29 (5) 474-486. [DOI: 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2009.04.007]

Family sources of educational gender inequality in rural China: A critical assessment

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