Asian Family in Transition

A collaborative research project of the Center for the Economics of Human Development, led by Professor James Heckman.

The Asian Family in Transition initiative seeks to study the economics of demographic changes in China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Its aim is to broaden research on topics related to the family and its contribution to inequality and social change. It addresses questions related to family structures, migration, and other changes with deep implications for society and the economy. This initiative was started through seed funding provided by the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics and is led by Professor James Heckman and Professor Junsen Zhang, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It accomplishes its goals through a series of conferences which alternate locations between Asia and the United States and through postdoctoral fellowships.


Topics Studied or to be Studied by the Initiative:

Marriage and Divorce

  • Marriage markets in Asian countries. What are the underlying factors? How are family structure and family life affected by economic growth and changes in demographics and culture?
  • How to understand the recent rapid growth in female migration through marriage from less-developed countries (China, Vietnam, Philippines, and Thailand) to more developed countries (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan)? What are the consequences and implications?

Fertility and Son Preference

  • Why are fertility rates so low in many Asian countries? What can policies do?
  • Explaining changing son-preferences and sex-ratios. What are the consequences and implications?

Family Investment in Children

  • Shadow education: Why? How? What are the socio-economic consequences? What implications for the public education system reform?
  • How are parenting, child development, and Confucian culture intertwined?
  • Child preference formation
  • Early childhood environment and later success

Siblings: Rivalry and Harmony

  • How do family structure and hierarchy affect sibling relation and within-family roles by gender and birth order?
  • How are they changing now, and why? What are the consequences and implications?

Aging Population and Changing Family Life

  • Aging, family ties, and care-giving
  • The role of social welfare systems in changing the traditional family structure
  • Economics of rising longevity and falling mortality

Asian-American Families and Their Children

  • How do Asian-American families differ from other ethnic groups in the U.S?
  • How do Asian-American children’s language, skills, personality and identity develop?
  • Are there any differences in the process across different ethnic groups? What are the consequences and implications?
  • Persistence of culture across generations in West

Intergenerational mobility

  • What are the effects of early disadvantage, and can enriched early environments protect against these?
  • What forms of schooling most efficiently promote social mobility?
  • The problem of the left behind children