Gender Differences in Cognition in China and Reasons for Change Over Time: Evidence from Charls

35 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2013

See all articles by Xiaoyan Lei

Xiaoyan Lei

Peking University - CCER

James P. Smith

RAND Corporation; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Xiaoting Sun

Peking University

Yaohui Zhao

Peking University


In this paper, we model gender differences in cognitive ability in China using a new sample of middle-aged and older Chinese respondents. Modeled after the American Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), CHARLS respondents are 45 years and older and are nationally representative of the Chinese population in this age span. Our measures of cognition in CHARLS relies on two measures that proxy for different dimensions of adult cognition – episodic memory and intact mental status. We relate these cognitive measures to adult health and SES outcomes during the adult years. We find large cognitive differences to the detriment of women that were mitigated by large gender differences in education among these generations of Chinese people. These gender differences in cognition are especially concentrated in the older age groups and poorer communities within the sample.We also investigated historical, geographical, and cultural characteristics of communities to understand how they impact cognition. Economic development and environmental improvement such as having electricity, increase in wage per capita and green coverage ratio generally contribute to higher cognition ability. Women benefit more from the fruits of development – electricity and growth of green coverage ratio are conducive to lessening female disadvantage in cognition.

Keywords: China, cognition

JEL Classification: H10

Suggested Citation

Lei, Xiaoyan and Smith, James P. and Sun, Xiaoting and Zhao, Yaohui, Gender Differences in Cognition in China and Reasons for Change Over Time: Evidence from Charls. IZA Discussion Paper No. 7536, Available at SSRN:

Xiaoyan Lei (Contact Author)

Peking University - CCER ( email )

No. 38 Xueyuan Road
Haidian District
Beijing, Beijing 100871

James P. Smith

RAND Corporation ( email )

P.O. Box 2138
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Xiaoting Sun

Peking University

No. 38 Xueyuan Road
Haidian District
No Address Available, Beijing

Yaohui Zhao

Peking University ( email )

Department of Economics
Beijing 100871

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