Does the early bird catch the worm? Evidence and interpretation on the long-term impact of school entry age in China

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The long-term impact of children's age at primary school entry on educational attainment and labor market outcomes is one of the primary concerns to families, educators, and policymakers. Using a nationally representative survey of families and individuals, this paper is among the first to explore these effects in a causal sense in the Chinese context and understand the underlying mechanisms. We use a regression discontinuity (RD) design that employs the threshold date for primary school entry set by the 1986 Compulsory Education Law of China as a source of exogenous variation in the timing of school entry. We first document a salient and robust compliance rate of school entry requirement. RD estimates indicate that being born right after the cutoff date significantly increases years of schooling and annual earnings for non-agricultural jobs for the full sample. We also observe remarkable heterogeneous effects on labor market performance by gender. Being born right after the cutoff increases the probability of being in the labor force for men, but decreases that for women. We find that the decline in female labor force participation is mainly driven by women who come from economically and socially disadvantaged families. Further evidence suggests that this decline can be explained by supply-side factors including fertility decision and childcare provisions.

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China Economic Review



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