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Costly Posturing : Relative Status, Ceremonies and Early Child Development in China


  • Chen, Xi
  • Zhang, Xiaobo


Presenting gifts at funerals, weddings, and other ceremonies held by fellow villagers have been regarded as social norms in Chinese villages for thousands of years. However, it is more burdensome for the poor to take part in these social occasions than for the rich. Because the poor often lack the necessary resources, they are forced to cut back on basic consumption, such as food, in order to afford a gift to attend the social festivals. For pregnant women in poor families, such a reduction in nutrition intake as a result of gift-giving can have a lasting detrimental health impact on their children. Using a primary census-type panel household survey in 18 villages in rural China, this paper first documents the fact that child health status has barely improved in the past decades despite more than double digit of annual per capita income growth. We show that social squeeze plays an important role in explaining this phenomenon. The toll of participating in social events is heavy for the poor–doubling the number of prenatal exposures to social ceremonies in a village would lower the height-for-age z-score of children born to poor families This finding sheds some light on the `food puzzle´ raised by Deaton as to why the nutritional status of the poor tends to be stagnant amid rapid income growth in developing countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Chen, Xi & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2012. "Costly Posturing : Relative Status, Ceremonies and Early Child Development in China," WIDER Working Paper Series 070, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  • Handle: RePEc:unu:wpaper:wp2012-070

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chen, Xi & Kanbur, Ravi & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2011. "Peer effects, risk pooling, and status seeking: What explains gift spending escalation in rural China?," IFPRI discussion papers 1151, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
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    Cited by:

    1. Xi Chen, 2015. "Relative deprivation and individual well-being," IZA World of Labor, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), pages 140-140, April.
    2. Chen, Xi, 2014. "Fetus, Fasting, and Festival: The Persistent Effects of in Utero Social Shocks," IZA Discussion Papers 8494, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Yuan, Yan & Xu, Lihe, 2015. "Are poor able to access the informal credit market? Evidence from rural households in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 232-246.
    4. Bulte, Erwin & Wang, Ruixin & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2017. "Forced gifts: The burden of being a friend," IFPRI discussion papers 1615, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    5. Chen, Xi, 2013. "Relative Deprivation in China," MPRA Paper 48582, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Ding, Weili & Zhang, Yuan, 2014. "When a son is born: The impact of fertility patterns on family finance in rural China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 192-208.
    7. repec:spr:sochwe:v:49:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s00355-017-1029-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Chen, Xi, 2014. "Gift-giving and Network Structure in Rural China: Utilizing Long-term Spontaneous Gift Records," IZA Discussion Papers 8642, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Chen, Xi, 2015. "Status Concern and Relative Deprivation in China: Measures, Empirical Evidence, and Economic and Policy Implications," IZA Discussion Papers 9519, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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    Households; Poverty; Public welfare; Social values;


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