The China Quarterly


Income, Work Preferences and Gender Roles among Parents of Infants in Urban China: A Mixed Method Study from Nanjing*

Sung won Kim, Vanessa L. Fonga1, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Niobe Way, Xinyin Chen, Huihua Deng and Zuhong Lu

a1 Harvard University. Email: (corresponding author).


This article explores the relationship between gender and income inequality within and across households in an urban Chinese sample by looking at survey data from 381 married couples with infants born in a Nanjing hospital between 2006 and 2007 and in-depth interviews with a subsample of 80 of these couples. We explore the relationship between family income and differences between husbands’ and wives’ work preferences. A couple-level quantitative analysis shows that in lower-income families, husbands were more likely than their wives to prefer career advancement and low stress at work, and wives were more likely than their husbands to prefer state jobs. Our analyses of the qualitative subsample show that, even though high-income husbands and wives are more likely to share similar work preferences, the household division of roles within their marriages is still gendered along traditional lines, as it is in the marriages of low-income couples.

Sung won Kim is a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, concentrating on human development and education. She is interested in the transmission of parenting beliefs, parental involvement, fatherhood, and in the academic resilience of children in different cultural contexts. She graduated from Oxford University with a BA in Chinese studies and taught English for six months in Beijing.

Vanessa L. Fong is associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on childbearing, childrearing, education, work, health, language development, gender, citizenship and transnational migration among Chinese singletons and their children. She is the author of Only Hope: Coming of Age under China's One-Child Policy (Stanford University Press, 2004).

Hirokazu Yoshikawa is professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He conducts research on early childhood development, immigration and public policy in the United States, China and Chile.

Niobe Way is professor of applied psychology at New York University.

Xinyin Chen is professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA) and Association for Psychological Science (APS) and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development (ISSBD). His research interest is mainly in children and adolescents' socio-emotional functioning, parenting and social relationships from a cultural-contextual perspective. He has edited several books and published a number of book chapters and articles in major journals in the field (e.g., Child Development, Developmental Psychology, Annual Review of Psychology).

Huihua Deng is professor at the Research Center for Learning Science, Southeast University in Nanjing, China.

Zuhong Lu is professor and director of the Research Center for Learning Science, Southeast University in Nanjing, China.


* The authors would like to thank Ping Chen, Cong Zhang and Mulian Chen for assistance with transcriptions, as well as Xu Zhao and Eva Chen for helpful feedback. The authors are also grateful for the support provided by the Harvard University China Fund, the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, the New York University Global Office, the New York University Institute of Human Development and Social Change, the Chinese Ministry of Education's Programme for Introducing Talents of Disciplines to Universities (B08024), and the Chinese Ministry of Education's Cultivation Fund for Key Scientific and Technical Innovation Projects (704025).