Melanie Meng Xue (薛萌)

Research statement

My research lies at the intersection of economic history and cultural economics. By studying cotton textile production since 1300 AD, I show that premodern cotton textile production led to a decline in gender inequality and that this effect has persisted to this day. My other research includes empirical studies of the impact of political repression on social capital, the effects of cultural distance on public goods provision, and the effects of affirmative action on investment in education in the context of imperial China.

 

In addition to my interest in China, my recent research has concerned the decoding of folklore and mythology as a new approach to cultural economics.

 

Current Research Papers

High-Value Work and the Rise of Women: The Cotton Revolution and Gender Equality in China

Melanie Meng Xue

Recent Presentations: NYU Stern 10/27, Northwestern Development Lunch 10/11, Northwestern Economic History Seminar 4/20, Brown 2/8, ASSA-EHA Panel 1/6 (Slides Discussion).

 

Abstract: This paper studies a historical experiment: the cotton revolution in premodern China, during which the rise of women took place in a largely agrarian environment, accompanied by a fundamental change in the cultural perception of their worth. Around 1300 AD, women in parts of China began to produce highly valuable cotton textiles in large quantities. They continued to work in rural households, but generated substantial market incomes. By exploiting variation in premodern cotton textile production (1300-1840) across 1,489 counties, I establish a robust negative relationship between cotton textile production and prenatal sex selection under the one-child policy in 2000. My results are robust to instrumenting cotton weaving with a level of relative humidity at which cotton yarn can be smoothly woven into cotton cloth. I find no evidence that the rise of women corresponded with their engagement in low-value work, such as cotton cultivation. In addition, I show that as early as 1600 AD, cotton textile production already led to systematic differences in widows' choice and their ability to survive. The revolutionary changes brought by the cotton revolution were unmasked by the equalization of opportunities in labor markets during the socialist period: the cultural perception of women's worth kept shaping private decisions even when socialism leveled the field for men and women in public.

 

Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China

Melanie Meng Xue, Mark Koyama

(submitted)

Recent Presentations: NEUDC 11/4, NBER Summer Institute 7/19, UC Irvine 6/5, Williams College 3/3

 

Abstract: We explore the impact of political repression under an autocratic regime on social capital. Between 1660-1788, individuals in China were persecuted for their speech and writings. A DID approach suggests that these literary inquisitions led to a 38% decline in local charities---a key proxy of social capital. Exploiting institutional variation in 20th c. China, we find further evidence that literary inquisitions permanently reduced social capital. In affected prefectures, individuals have a lower level of generalized trust, with more political apathy and less political participation. These results indicate a vicious cycle through which autocratic rule can become self-reinforcing.

 

Raising Dragons

John Nye, Melanie Meng Xue

 

Friends from Afar: Migration, Cultural Proximity and Primary Schooling in Lower Yangzi, 1850-1949

Yu Hao, Melanie Meng Xue

Explorations in Economic History 2017, 62 (1).

 

Work in Progress

Extreme Weather and a Culture of Violence

Melanie Meng Xue

Status: First draft in progress

 

Folklore

Stelios Michalopoulos, Melanie Meng Xue

Status: First draft completed Sept. 1, 2017.

Recent presentation: NBER Political Economy (11/3)

Upcoming presentations: Northwestern (late February), New Economic School (3/19), Higher School of Economics (3/20), Pompeu Fabra (3/26), Toulouse IAST (3/30), Copenhagen (4/5)

 

The Short- and Long-Run Effects of Affirmative Action: Evidence From Imperial China

Yu Hao, Melanie Meng Xue

Status: First draft in progress

Recent presentations: WEAI-Clio session 6/26, All-UC Economic History Conference 5/3, ASSA 1/8.

 

 

Contact

 

Department of Economics

Northwestern University

2211 Campus Drive, #3197

Evanston, IL 60208

 

 

Curriculum Vitae


SSRN Author Page