Is There a Chinese Model of the Second Demographic Transition?


The “Second Demographic Transition” (SDT) is a useful theoretical framework for explaining the recent trend in many countries of very low fertility combined with different union and family types. Although past studies have observed the SDT in many Western societies, whether it is applicable to East Asia remains unclear. Capitalizing on data from the Chinese Census and China Family Panel Study, we provide estimates of key SDT indicators. We find that union formation in China has trended increasingly towards patterns commonly observed in the West, including delayed ages of marriage and common practices of premarital cohabitation. Despite below-replacement fertility, childlessness remains rare among married Chinese couples. In addition, almost all children are born and raised within marriage, with a virtual absence of nonmarital childbearing in China. Although we observe a slight increase in divorce across cohorts, the divorce rate within 10 years in China was much lower than in other East Asian societies. Our research suggests that the pace and magnitude of family changes that commonly characterize the SDT may vary significantly with social context, especially for a society like China that has been heavily influenced by Confucian culture.