Three Essays on Marriage, Health and Social Stratification in China

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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labor market
life course
Demography, Population, and Ecology
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China has undergone remarkable socioeconomic and demographic transitions in recent decades. In the wake of these changes, a large body of research has investigated the ways that socioeconomic status shapes family formation, labor market outcomes, and health and wellbeing. While sociological research in China disproportionately focuses on socioeconomic status as an important factor in understanding family formation, labor market outcomes and health disparities, there is little attention to health as an important human capital dimension—one that might matter for labor market outcomes, and might be related to marriage. By utilizing the China Health and Nutrition Survey, a large-scale, longitudinal survey, this study enables investigation of competing hypotheses about linkages among marriage, health and social stratification over the life course. Chapter one of the dissertation addresses how marriage is related to an individual’s health over the life course. Chapter 2 investigates a) the association between marital transition and weight change and b) how this association differs by gender. Chapter 3 investigates the association between weight status and labor market opportunities, and how this relationship varies by gender and level of urbanization of communities, given rising concerns about labor market discrimination and imbalanced regional development. Empirical results show that marriage is related to individuals’ self-rated health over the life course, but that the relationship varies by gender. Among men, there are no health differences by marital status after accounting for selection bias. Among women, health differences between those who are single and those who are married are trivial, but health benefits of marriage emerge when comparing married and widowed women. Moreover, the health benefits of marriage for women erode over the life course. Married people are also heavier than non-married people, and non-married women lose more weight than their married counterparts. This phenomenon may be due to parental pressures to marry and other attributes of the Chinese context. Furthermore, heavier people--men and women--also face more difficulties in finding a job, and these difficulties are aggravated in highly-urbanized communities. In summary, this dissertation shows that health disparities are closely tied to marriage and to labor market opportunities in China.

Emily C. Hannum
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