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The Biological Standard of Living in China during the 20th Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2019

Pierre van der Eng*
College of Business and Economics, The Australian National University, Canberra (Australia)
Kitae Sohn
Department of Economics, Konkuk University, Seoul (South Korea). Email:
Email: (corresponding author)


This article uses the mean age at menarche of women in China as an indicator of changes in the standard of living during the 20th century. It discusses the difficulties of using this indicator. It finds that the mean age of menarche stagnated at 16 to 17 years for women born during the period between the 1880s and 1930s. The age at menarche decreased in some urban areas, indicating improving living standards in, for example, Beijing and Shanghai. The mean age at menarche increased for 1940s’ birth cohorts, in relation not only to the warfare of the 1940s but also the famine of 1959–1962. The mean age at menarche decreased in a sustained way for women born during the 1950s to early 2000s. The decrease is associated with increasing educational attainment since the 1940s and also improvements in nutrition, hygiene and healthcare.



本文以中国女性月经初潮的平均年龄为指标, 研究二十世纪生活水平的变化。本文首先讨论了应用这个指标的困难性。研究发现, 十九世纪八十年代至二十世纪三十年代出生的女性, 月经初潮的平均年龄为 16 至 17 岁。在北京和上海这样的大城市, 女性月经初潮的年龄略低,表明该地区生活水平略高。受战争影响以及在 1959–1962 年饥荒影响下, 二十世纪四十年代出生的女性月经初潮平均年龄有所增加。而二十世纪五十年代及以后出生的女性, 月经初潮的平均年龄呈持续下降趋势。到 2001 年至 2013 年出生的女性, 月经初潮的平均年龄已降至 12.1 岁。这与二十世纪四十年代以来中国教育程度的普遍提高有关, 也与营养、卫生和医疗保健方面的改善有关。

Research Article
Copyright © SOAS University of London, 2019

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