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The Economic Motives for Foot-Binding


  • Xinyu Fan
  • Lingwei Wu


We study foot-binding – a practice that reshaped millions of women’s feet in historical China, yet in lack of a consistent explanation of its temporal, regional, class, and size variation. We present a model of foot-binding, where it serves as a premarital investment tool in response to a male-specific social mobility shock, and women trade off labor distortions for marriage prospects. Furthermore, the regional shifts on both sides of the trade-off explained its observed variation. Using county-level archival data on foot-binding, we corroborate the theory with empirical evidence.

Suggested Citation

  • Xinyu Fan & Lingwei Wu, 2020. "The Economic Motives for Foot-Binding," CRC TR 224 Discussion Paper Series crctr224_2020_187, University of Bonn and University of Mannheim, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:bon:boncrc:crctr224_2020_187

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    Cited by:

    1. Cheng, Nora & Fan, Elliott & Wu, Tsong-Min, 2022. "Sweet unbinding: Sugarcane cultivation and the demise of foot-binding," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 157(C).

    More about this item


    Gender Norm; Marriage Market; Labor; Foot-binding;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N35 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Asia including Middle East
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General

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