11 August 2008

Why the Price of Tea in China Matters

I rarely delve into the economics of tea (thanks to a mysterious number-induced nausea), but I couldn't resist after finding a recent paper by Nancy Qian, a professor of economics at Brown University, entitled "Missing Women and the Price of Tea in China: The Effect of Sex-Specific Earnings on Sex Imbalance."

There has been an ongoing debate (see this 2005 article and a more recent rebuttal) since the coining of the term "missing women," which refers to a significantly male-skewed sex ratio through selective abortion and abandonment of females, especially in places like China, India and Sri Lanka where the cultural preference is for male children.
Many Asian populations are characterized by severe male-biased sex imbalances. For example, whereas 50.1% of the current populations in western European countries are female, only 48.4% are female in India and China. (Qian)
That discrepancy may not seem large, but consider the size of these populations: It translates into 44 million missing women in China in 1990, when the data were first published.

Qian makes the case that economics can directly affect this imbalance, however, and through a surprising source: tea. China is the world's largest producer of tea, churning out 835 metric tons in 2004.

Because of the low height of tea bushes there (about 2 1/2 feet), Chinese women have a distinct, natural advantage over the usually taller men in harvesting the delicate leaves.

If the price of tea rises, then, women's value economically stands to as well. And as tea is such a massive crop in China, this could start to equalize the country's male-skewed sex ratio.
Regarding relative survival rates for girls, increasing the price of tea can operate through [several] channels. First, it can increase the relative desirability of having a girl by increasing parents’ perceptions of daughters’ future earnings relative to that of sons. Second, the increase in total household income can increase the relative desirability of girls if for some reason daughters are luxury goods relative to sons. (Qian)
Paying more for your morning cup of tea, therefore, could be affecting far more than your wallet, if it does mean an increased economic value for women. According to Qian's research, an increase in tea's value boosts female survival rates as well as educational attainment in China.

Think about that over your next cup of Dragonwell.


Bonbon Oiseau said...

this is really interesting ana--thanks for posting about it. What a sad backward state of affairs in development.

Anonymous said...


Tartelette said...

Thanks for posting this article. Thought provocative perspective.

Penelope said...

This is what I like to see!!! Keep it global, yo.

Strumpet said...

Great post- Freakonomics likes it too- http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/

phillr said...

+1 for out of the box thinking!


Evil Tofu said...

Interesting piece. I'm glad that rural Chinese women have opportunity to earn more. I feel great about my love for tea!
But I doubt it would affect the male children preference. The reason for the preference is not earning power, but the ability to preserve the family name. In most culture, children adopt father's family name. If you only have daughters, the name "dies" with her.