This paper analyzes the determinants of primary school enrollment in China. Unlike other developed countries, a large number of Chinese children start school at an earlier age than ruled by the Compulsory Education Law. In my analysis, having parents with higher education is shown to increase the probability of advanced enrollment, and decrease the probability of delayed enrollment. Either parent’s involvement in teaching is also influential in urban areas. The higher number of births during October (Chinese agricultural society’s tendency to conceive during the winter) was also observed to indirectly induce a number of children to enroll in school early.
JEL classification: I21; I28
Keywords: School starting age, Advanced enrollment, Delayed enrollment
Recently, the question of the optimal age to send children to school has generated substantial interest among economists and social scientists. Some studies have shown that relatively older students in the same cohort achieve better in-school performance, such as higher test scores (Bedard and Dhuey, 2006; Datar, 2006; McEwan and Shapiro, 2008; Elder and Lubotsky, 2009; Kawaguchi, 2009; Dobkin and Ferreira, 2010), lower inattention/hyperactivity activities (Thomas and Hans, 2015), higher IQ scores (Black et al., 2012), and less likely to be diagnosed with having specific learning disabilities (Martin et al., 2004). In developmental psychology, the phenomenon in which older students in a school cohort take advantage of their physical and mental maturity is called relative age effect.
In China, however, some parents ignore the Compulsory Education Laws, and choose to send their children to primary school earlier than the required school starting age. In my sample, the ratio of advanced school enrollment is very high, reaching 22.3%. The ratio of compliance with the law is surprisingly low.
In this paper, I analyze the determinants of primary school enrollment using microdata from China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) 2010, a nationally representative sample for China. The CFPS data contains not only individuals born each year and each month, but also the exact school entry year, thereby giving us a unique chance to compute primary school starting age. It also contains rich information on family background such as parents’ education, occupation, and number of siblings. To my knowledge, this is the first analysis of this phenomenon.
My results indicate that higher parental socioeconomics status (SES) is associated with lower children’s delayed enrollment of children. Specifically, parents with higher education exhibit a higher probability of advanced enrollment and lower probability of delayed enrollment. Whether a father or mother works as a teacher is also important. In addition, the fact that more births occur in October (due to China’s history as an agricultural economy, with a greater tendency to conceive during thewinter) indirectly induces a number of children to early school enrollment1.
These results are contrary to the US, where many parents keep their children out of kindergarten or the first grade even when they are legally eligible to attend (Deming and Dynarski, 2008). Dobkin and Ferreira (2010) have found that in the US, parents with high socioeconomic status are more likely to postpone their children’s school attendance. While it is clearly important that understand the determinants of school enrollment. Because the lengthening of childhood is linked with adulthood, which further affects labor force participation, marriage, and even the Social Security System (Deming and Dynarski, 2008).
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: section 2 introduces the Compulsory Educational Laws in China. In section 3, I describe the microdata used in this paper. Section 4 presents the estimation results, and section 5 concludes.