Woman among women: Female agency in traditional Chinese households, circa 1947

Bas van Leeuwen, Jieli Li

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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There is a big debate on the level of present-day female agency within the household in China. Even though the two sides of the debate make implicit assumptions on historical agency, a direct link is rarely established as we lack information on historical female agency among lower class households. In this paper we use a unique dataset on the ranking of women in the household for rural Yugan County (Jiangxi province, China) for the year 1947 when traditional households were still dominant.

The main conclusion is that, contrary to much of the classic literature on the subject, ranking among females in traditional Chinese households was much less rigid than expected, with most women being in charge at a certain point in their lives. This was mostly driven by gender-specific issues such as a son's taking over as the head of the household, thereby raising his wife's status, but with potential other daughters-in-law (wives of the brothers of the head of the household) ending up as assistants Yet, other factors also play a role. For example, we find a positive impact of traditional education on female agency.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalAsia and the Global Economy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • China
  • Republican period
  • women
  • Yugan county
  • household
  • ranking
  • agency


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