Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 219–246 | Cite as

The dragon cohort of Hong Kong: traditional beliefs, demographics, and education

Original Paper


In Hong Kong, parental preference for babies born in the Chinese Zodiac dragon year causes spikes in fertility. The larger number of “dragon babies” born in 1988 resulted in a schooling cohort which was 5% larger on average every school-year. Using an innovative identification strategy that avoids selection bias, I find that dragon cohort students increase their time spent studying math by an average of 0.26 hours per week (a 9% increase relative to the mean). These effort responses are strongest for girls and for students whose parents do not have post-secondary education. Being in the dragon cohort also results in higher math scores. These empirical findings are consistent with competitive behavior changes of dragon cohort members responding to the presence of additional students. I cannot, however, rule out other possible mechanisms, such as cooperation, peer quality, and educational investments, acting in conjunction to improve academic outcomes. This paper is the first to document the test score and effort impacts of such zodiac cohorts; its findings highlight the importance of cultural forces in determining population changes, and their potential to influence education and other societal outcomes.


Education Chinese zodiac Dragon year Schooling cohort Fertility Birth rate 

JEL Classification

J13 I20 Z10 



I would like to thank Alex Mas, Cecilia Rouse, Harvey Rosen, Henry Farber, Nicholas Lawson, Quynh Nguyen, and the seminar and workshop participants at the Industrial Relations Section and the Public Finance Working Group at Princeton University for invaluable insights and comments. I am grateful to anonymous referees for their helpful feedback and guidance.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply  2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bureau of EconomicsFederal Trade CommissionWashingtonUSA

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