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 examines the relationship between gender-specific work opportunities and gender equality in China. Due to the use of new technology after 1300 AD, cotton textile production enabled women to earn high incomes while working at home. Using historical gazetteers, I exploit variation in premodern cotton textile production (1300-1840) across 1,489 counties and establish a robust negative relationship between high-value work opportunities for women in the past and sex ratio at birth in contemporary China. To overcome potential endogeneity in location, I instrument cotton textile production with a relative humidity index specific to suitability for cotton weaving. I find strong evidence that cotton textile production changed cultural beliefs about women's value, and its effects have persisted well beyond 1840 and endured in different political and economic regimes. The pattern of widow survival rates implies that an initial transition in beliefs about women can be traced back to at least 1600 AD. In addition, a history of cotton textile production leads to higher female labor force participation in pre-socialist China, more wives heading the household in socialist China, as well as less biased gender attitudes today.


Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China

Melanie Meng Xue, Mark Koyama

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


Abstract: How does autocratic rule shape social capital? To address this question, we study the impact of political persecutions in imperial China. Between 1660--1788, individuals were persecuted if they were suspected of possessing subversive attitudes towards the ruler. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that these persecutions led to an average decline of 38% in the number of charitable organizations in each subsequent decade. To investigate the long-run effect of persecutions, we analyze the impact they had on contemporary social capital. We find that persecutions are associated with lower levels of trust and greater political apathy. Examining the provision of local public goods in twentieth century China, we find that persecutions reduced social capital in both the short and the long-run. These results provide evidence of a vicious cycle whereby autocratic rule becomes entrenched through a permanent decline in social capital.


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



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)


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.





Department of Economics

Northwestern University

2211 Campus Drive, #3197

Evanston, IL 60208



Curriculum Vitae

SSRN Author Page