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Does female off-farm employment affect fertility desire? Evidence from rural China

Zheng Shen (School of Economics and Management, Zhejiang A&F University, Hangzhou, China)
Derek S. Brown (Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA)
Kang Yu (Zhejiang Province Key Cultivating Think Tank—Research Academy for Rural Revitalization of Zhejiang Province, Zhejiang A&F University, Hangzhou, China)

China Agricultural Economic Review

ISSN: 1756-137X

Article publication date: 14 December 2022




Off-farm employment is an important factor associated with fertility transition in many developing countries. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the impact of female off-farm employment on their fertility desire in rural China.


Based on the data from the China Labor-force Dynamics Survey, the authors adopt an instrumental variable approach to address the endogeneity issue. Desired number of children and desire for a second child are used to measure fertility desire.


The results show that off-farm employment participation significantly reduces women's desired number of children and the likelihood of their desire for a second child. Moreover, off-farm employment reduces women's fertility desire mainly through pathways including the weakening of son preference and a decrease in job autonomy, rather than the changes in leisure hours. Further evidence suggests that social health insurance plays an important role in moderating the adverse relationship between off-farm employment and the desire for a second child. The fertility-reducing effects are more pronounced among younger women, among those participating in off-farm wage employment and among families with only wives' participation in the off-farm labor market.


This paper contributes to the existing research by investigating the causal impact of off-farm employment on fertility desire in a rural developing context and the possible underlying mechanisms responsible for this relationship. This study provides important insights on this topic in developing countries and may have important implications for theory and practice.



This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Number: 71903177). The authors thank the Center for Social Survey at Sun Yat-sen University for financial support for the China Labor-force Dynamics Survey (CLDS) data collection. The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Shen, Z., Brown, D.S. and Yu, K. (2022), "Does female off-farm employment affect fertility desire? Evidence from rural China", China Agricultural Economic Review, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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