Discussion paper

DP16035 What Do Parents Want? Parental Spousal Preferences in China

In many societies, parents are involved in selecting a spouse for their child, and integrate this with decisions about migration and educational investment. What type of spouse do parents want for their children? We estimate parents' spousal preferences based on survey choices between random profiles. Preference data are elicited from parents or other relatives who actively search for a spouse on behalf of their adult child in Kunming, China. Economic variables (income and real estate ownership) are important for the choice of sons-in-law, but not daughters-in-law. Education is valued on both sides. We simulate marriage outcomes based on preferences for age and education and compare them with marriage patterns in the general population. Homogamy by education can be explained by parental preferences, but not by age: parents prefer younger wives, yet most couples are the same age. Additionally collected preference data from students can explain age distributions. Survey data from parents suggest that while they prefer younger wives, they also accept wives of the same age. Overall, marriage markets have a likely positive influence on education investments for both boys and girls.


Raiber, E, W Ren, J Bovet, P Seabright and C Wang (2021), ‘DP16035 What Do Parents Want? Parental Spousal Preferences in China‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16035. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16035