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Rural Income Volatility and Inequality in China

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  • John Whalley
  • Ximing Yue

Abstract

Available data indicates a growing urban-rural income gap (the ratio of mean urban to rural incomes) with a significant increase from around 1.8 in the late 1980's to over 3 today. These estimates do not take into account the higher volatility of rural incomes in China. Current literature based on analyses of rural income volatility in China decomposes poverty into chronic and transient components using longitudinal survey data and assesses the fraction of the Foster, Greer and Thorbecke poverty gap attributable to mean income over time being below the poverty line. Resulting estimates of 40-50 % transient poverty point to the policy conclusion that poverty may be a less serious social problem than it appears in annual data due to rural income volatility. Here we use a direct method instead to adjust rural income for volatility using a certainty equivalent income measure and recompute summary statistics for the distribution of volatility corrected incomes, including the urban-rural income gap on which much of current poverty debate in China focuses. Since an uncertain income stream is worth less in utility terms than a certain income stream we argue that heightened rural volatility increases the effective urban-rural income gap and intensifies not weakens poverty concerns. Using Chinese longitudinal rural survey data for which current decompositions can be replicated, we make adjustments for certainty equivalence of rural household income streams which not only widen the urban-rural income gap in China but also increases other distributional summary statistics. Depending upon values used for the coefficient of relative risk aversion, the measured urban-rural income gap increases by 20-30% using a certainty equivalent measure to adjust rural incomes for volatility. We also conduct similar analyses using consumption data, for which slightly larger increases occur.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12779.

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Date of creation: Dec 2006
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Publication status: published as John Whalley & Ximing Yue, 2009. "Rural Income Volatility and Inequality in China," CESifo Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 55(3-4), pages 648-668.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12779

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  1. Sicular, Terry & Yue, Ximing & Gustafsson, Bjorn & Li, Shi, 2006. "The Urban-Rural Income Gap and Inequality in China," Working Paper Series RP2006/135, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  2. Chen, Shaohua & Ravallion, Martin, 1996. "Data in transition: Assessing rural living standards in Southern China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 23-56.
  3. Raj Chetty, 2006. "A Bound on Risk Aversion Using Labor Supply Elasticities," NBER Working Papers 12067, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Jalan, Jyotsna & Ravallion, Martin, 1998. "Transient Poverty in Postreform Rural China," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 338-357, June.
  5. Joan R. Rodgers & John L. Rodgers, 1993. "Chronic Poverty in the United States," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 28(1), pages 25-54.
  6. Ravallion, Martin, 1988. "Expected Poverty under Risk-Induced Welfare Variability," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 98(393), pages 1171-82, December.
  7. Foster, James & Greer, Joel & Thorbecke, Erik, 1984. "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 761-66, May.
  8. Jonathan Morduch, 1995. "Income Smoothing and Consumption Smoothing," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 103-114, Summer.
  9. Raj Chetty, 2003. "A New Method of Estimating Risk Aversion," NBER Working Papers 9988, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Zhao, Zhong, 2007. "Earnings Instability and Earnings Inequality in Urban China: 1989–2006," IZA Discussion Papers 3270, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Chen, Xi & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2009. "The Distribution of Income and Well-Being in Rural China: A Survey of Panel Data Sets, Studies and New Directions," MPRA Paper 20587, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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