Have the only daughters been empowered under the one child policy in China: a power-oriented analysis at the household level

Author: Zihang Gong

Gong, Zihang, 2021 Have the only daughters been empowered under the one child policy in China: a power-oriented analysis at the household level, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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As the One-child policy (OCP) profoundly changed the demographic feature and family structure in the past several decades, the proportion of only daughter has been increasing in Chinese families. For the only daughters, the increasing educational and human capital investment from their parents in a familial context as affected by the OCP indicates that they have unprecedented access to empowering resources. This thesis asks the question of whether the only daughters have been empowered within their families under the OCP. To analyse and explore the empowerment process, the methodological approach is two-pronged. First, quantitative analytical methods will be employed to testify the effects of the singleton status on conventional indicators of empowerment when taking the intersectional inequalities as related to gender and location into account. Second, to further analyse the empowerment at the level of agency, an analysis is undertaken of a recent report about a marriage mode that has ascending popularity in families with sole daughters. By analysing the changes of power relations when only daughters become inheritors of the family, the transformations in women’s agency can be delineated. This thesis finds that although only daughters are significantly more advantaged in terms of accumulating educational and economic resources in their families than daughters with siblings, the impacts of these advantages on reducing gender inequalities are negligible, and are very limited in terms of reducing the rural-urban gap. The discursive analysis shows that sole daughters’ practical entitlement to inheritance can lead to greater autonomy in their family lives, and thereby broaden their space of agency. But new problems emerge in the form of greater dependence on the natal family, which may limit women’s autonomy and decision-making power. This thesis concludes that although the only daughters have been empowered in some respects, this comes with persistent inequalities and at the costs of dependence on parents in their empowerment. Furthermore, while only daughters are relatively privileged, it remains to be explored whether these improvements in empowerment can stimulate the development on the status and agency of all women and girls in Chinese society, and whether they can be sustained in the post-OCP environment.

Keywords: OCP, only daughters, empowerment process, women’s agency

Subject: International Studies thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Susanne Schech