Lingwei Wu (University of Bonn)

May 21, 2019

12:45 - 2:00 pm


D 109, Place Montesquieu 3

Lingwei Wu

(University of Bonn)

will give a presentation on

The Economic Motives For Foot-Binding

Abstract: What are the origins of gender-biased social norms? As a painful custom that persisted in historical China, foot-binding targeted girls whose feet were reshaped during early childhood. This paper presents a unified theory to explain the stylized facts of foot-binding, and investigates its historical dynamics driven by a gender-asymmetric mobility system in historical China (the Civil Examination System). The exam system marked the transition from heredity aristocracy to meritocracy, generated a more heterogeneous composition of men compared to that of women, and triggered intensive competition among women in the marriage market. As a competition package carrying both aesthetic and moral values, foot-binding was gradually adopted by women as their social ladder, first in upper class and later by lower class. However, since foot-binding impedes nonsedentary labor but not sedentary labor, its adoption in lower class exhibited distinctive regional variation: it was highly prevalent in regions where women specialized in household handicraft, and was less popular in regions where women specialized in intensive farming, e.g. rice cultivation. Empirically, we conduct analysis using county-level Republican archives on foot-binding to test the cross-sectional predictions of our theory, and major findings are robust and consistent with key theoretical predictions.

with Xinyu Fan


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