Three Essays on Intergenerational Transmission of Socioeconomic Status, Health, and Political Values in Mainland China and Hong Kong


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date22 Jul 2022


The main body of this thesis consists of three empirical studies that closely examine intergenerational transmission, defined in this context as the way in which parents’ attitudes or life experiences are transmitted to the next generation in mainland China and Hong Kong. By applying data from the China Family Panel Study (CFPS) and the Hong Kong Panel Study of Social Dynamics (HKPSSD), these studies investigate three topics: 1) whether and to what extent the children of immigrants from Guangdong to Hong Kong achieve greater upward mobility compared with their counterparts whose parents stayed in Guangdong; 2) in what ways parents’ experiences of malnutrition during different stages in their lives is associated with the economic outcomes and health conditions of their children; and 3) how parental divergence arising from political differences shape the patterns of their children’s political attitudes.

Findings from the first study (Chapter Two) show that mothers exposed to famine in utero are more likely to have lower socioeconomic outcomes. These poor outcomes are then transmitted to the next generation, as reflected in annual income and monthly salary. Moreover, it seems that the intergenerational effect of famine on children’s economic outcomes is not transmitted through the paternal line. This may be because of the lower socioeconomic status of famine mothers and their relative disadvantage in the marriage market, which in turn results in their children experiencing high levels of deprivation and fewer opportunities for social mobility. When it comes to health conditions, however, this effect appears to be driven solely by the father’s exposure. In particular, the children of fathers exposed to famine during childhood are more likely to suffer from poorer health than the children of fathers who did not experience famine. This result suggests that fathers exposed to famine in utero are positively selected compared with pre-famine fathers and also points to the vital role played by family survival strategies. In the second study (Chapter Three), the analysis shows that children of immigrants have similar occupational attainment to children of parents who stayed in Guangdong (“Guangdong stayers”) and children of Hong Kong natives, once I control for children’s educational year. In this case, children of immigrants do, however, experience advantages in regard to education. In terms of occupational mobility, the children of immigrants in this study achieved the highest level of occupational mobility compared with the other two groups of children. Furthermore, within immigrant groups, the results suggest that, regardless of how mobile the occupational status of their parents, all groups of immigrant children will still achieve similar levels of occupational attainment. In addition, all immigrant children demonstrate an upward trend, regardless of their parents’ occupation status in the origin and destination labor markets. This may be because of the change in occupational structure in Hong Kong. Furthermore, children of highly-skilled immigrants tend to track their parents’ occupational status prior to migration. Finally, children of low-skilled, stuck immigrants attain the highest level of occupational mobility, compared with other immigrants. The third study (Chapter Four) finds, first, that religious preference is associated with parents’ political divergence. Second, when it comes to the transmission of political stance, the children of parents with similar political stances have a higher probability of inheriting their parents’ political stances, except when both parents have a pro-establishment political stance. However, when parents have heterogeneous political stances, their children are less likely to remain neutral and are more likely to have a definite political stance. More specifically, when parents have different political stances—namely, when one is pro-democracy and the other is pro-establishment—their children have higher probabilities of being in the pro-democracy group. This result may be influenced by cohort and social environment changes in Hong Kong.

Overall, this thesis aims to offer a novel and more comprehensive perspective on social mobility and intergenerational transmission in mainland China and Hong Kong through a combined consideration of both intergenerational and intragenerational dimensions. The findings presented in this dissertation also have policy implications for the intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status, health, and political values in the East Asian context.