Gansu Survey of Children and Families Dissertations

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Wang, Donghui. 2018. The Power of Ideas: How Norms, Perceptions and Aspirations Relate to Demographic Patterns and Individual Well-Being in China (Doctoral dissertation). The Pennsylvania State University.


This dissertation aims to describe the processes and mechanisms of how structural and cultural changes intertwine and affect demographic patterns and individual well-being in the context of China. It takes a multi-level perspective and is comprised of three empirical chapters. The first (Chapter 2) seeks to understand how macro-level structural and cultural changes shape elders’ perceptions of aging over time. This study uses a seven-wave panel survey spanning over 16 years and presents multi-level growth curve models. It focuses on describing inter- and intra-cohort variation in elders’ perceptions of aging. The results show compelling evidence of cohort and age effects. Specifically, elders in more recent cohorts exhibit both higher levels of unhappiness with age and feelings of uselessness with age. Net of cohort effects, elders feel increasingly less happy and less useful as they move through the life course. Subsequent models that adjust for time-varying and time-invariant covariates reveal that cohort effects are largely explained by the cohort compositional differences in education and occupation. Age effects, however, remain significant after accounting for elders’ socioeconomic status, demographic characteristics and a list of time-varying life events, such as marital status, living arrangements, and residential relocation status. The second empirical chapter (Chapter 3) moves the focus from the national to sub-national level. It examines transition into adulthood experiences among a group of rural youth in one of the most impoverished provinces in China — Gansu Province. This chapter seeks to understand the roles that youths’ structural resources and agentic orientations play in shaping their transition pathways in three life domains: school, work, and home-leaving. Data came from wave 1 (2000) and wave 4 (2009) of Gansu Survey of Children and Family (GSCF). Latent class analysis (LCA) is used to identify youth’s transition pathways from age 12 to 19. The analysis revealed six distinctive transition pathways into adulthood. The subsequent multinomial analysis distinguishes three sets of variables that correlate with youth’s transition pathways: family socioeconomic status, community-level educational opportunities, and youth’s agentic orientations. The third empirical chapter (Chapter 4) examines how the dynamic interplay of economic conditions, fertility policies, and fertility norms at the local level manifested as spatial heterogeneities of fertility patterns at the macro level. Using geocoded 2010 county-level census data, this chapter estimates Geographically Weighted Regression (GWR) models to identify place-specific relationships between county-level Total Fertility Rates (TFR) and economic, policy and fertility norm-related factors. The results show that the relationships between TFR and widely used economic, policy and norm-related factors vary spatially in terms of direction, strength, and magnitude. The differences and the complexities of localities cannot be told by a single story of either government intervention or socioeconomic development. In short, results from this dissertation demonstrate utilities in adopting life course and spatial thinking in the study of interactions between structure and culture. It also highlights the necessities of accounting for population heterogeneity in the study of social change.


China, life course, spatial analysis, aging, transition into adulthood, fertility, culture, social change, rural, poverty



Date Posted: 04 June 2021