The Shaping of a Gender Norm: Marriage, Labor, and Foot-binding in Historical China
International Economic Review, Forthcoming
83 Pages Posted: 10 May 2023 Last revised: 10 Jul 2023
Date Written: May 8, 2023
This paper analyzes the shaping of a costly gender norm: foot-binding in historical China. We present a theory that explains the rise of foot-binding, in response to a gender-asymmetric social mobility shock that dispersed men’s quality distribution in the marriage market. The theory characterizes the marriage market equilibrium and women’s competition strategies before and after the shock. Empirical evidence using archival data corroborates the theoretical predictions, that greater men’s social mobility opportunities encouraged foot-binding and that a greater cost of women’s labor discouraged foot-binding. The paper thus highlights that costly gender norms can be traced back to gender asymmetry in social mobility opportunities.
Keywords: Foot-binding, Gender Norms, Social Mobility, Marriage Market, Labor
JEL Classification: O15, J16, N35, Z10
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