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Feminization of agriculture in China:
Debunking the myth and measuring the consequence of women participation in agriculture1

Linxiu Zhang2 , Scott Rozelle3, Chengfang Liu4, Susan Olivia4, Alan de Brauw5, and Qiang Li6


November 2006

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The goals of this paper are to help build a clear picture of the role of women in China’s agriculture, to assess whether or not agricultural feminization has been occurring, and if so, to measure its impact on labor use, productivity, and welfare. To meet this goal, we rely on two high quality data sets that allow us to track changes in of labor use over time. We use this data to examine the evolution of off farm and on farm employment trends and analyze the role of men and women in the emergence of China’s labor markets. We explore who is working on China’s farms, and the effects of these decisions on labor use, productivity and welfare. The paper makes three main contributions. First, we establish a conceptual framework that we believe commences an effort to try to more carefully define the different dimensions of agricultural feminization and its expected consequences. Second, we make a contribution to the China literature. Perhaps surprisingly, we believe we have mostly debunked the myth that China’s agriculture is becoming feminized. We also find that even if women were taking over the farm, the consequences in China would be mostly positive—from a labor supply, productivity and income point of view. Finally, there may be some lessons for the rest of the world on what policies and institutions help make women productive when they work on and manage in a nation’s agricultural sector. Policies that insure equal access to land, regulations that dictate open access to credit, and economic development strategies that encourage competitive and efficient markets all contribute to an environment in which women farmers can succeed.

  1. This document is part of a series of contributions by Rimisp-Latin American Center for Rural Development ( to the preparation of the World Development Report 2008 “Agriculture for Development”. This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada ( The contents of this document are the exclusive responsibility of the authors.
  2. Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Sciences,
  3. Stanford University
  4. University of California, Davis (PhD student)
  5. IFPRI
  6. Post Doc at Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Sciences

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