This study considers the experience of china's one-child policy to examine how fertility restrictions affect economic and social outcomes over a lifetime. Using variations in these penalties across provinces and over time, we find that exposure to stricter fertility restrictions when young leads to higher education levels, more white-collar jobs, delayed marriage, and lower fertility rates. Further consequences include lower rates of residing with the elderly and higher household income, consumption, and savings. Finally, exposure to stricter fertility restrictions in early life increases female empowerment. Overall, fertility restrictions imposed when people are young have powerful effects throughout their life cycle.

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Author notes

We thank David Cutler, Richard Freeman, Edward Glaeser, Claudia Goldin, Lawrence Katz, Adriana Lleras-Muney, and Stefanie Stantcheva for their constructive suggestions. We also thank the participants at numerous seminars for their helpful comments. X.L. acknowledges the financial support from National Key R&D Program of China (2018YFC2000400) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (71873006). A.S. acknowledges financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71703187).

A supplemental appendix is available online at https://doi.org/10.1162/rest_a_00921.

Supplementary data