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Adjusting to Really Big Changes: The Labor Market in China, 1989-2009

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  • Wei Chi
  • Richard B. Freeman
  • Hongbin Li

Abstract

China’s emerging labor market was buffeted by changes in demand and supply and institutional changes in the last two decades. Using the Chinese Urban Household Survey data from 1989 to 2009, our study shows that the market responded with substantial changes in the structure of wages and in employment and types of jobs that workers obtained that mirrors the adjustments found in labor markets in advanced economies. However, the one place where the Chinese labor market appears to diverge from the labor markets in advanced countries is the rapid convergence in earnings and occupational positions of cohorts who entered the job market under more or less favorable conditions. On this dimension, China’s labor market seems more flexible than those in other countries. Three related factors may explain this pattern: (1) the rapid growth of China’s economy; (2) the high rate of employee turnover; (3) the relative weakness of internal labor markets in China. Bottom line, the Chinese labor market has responded about as well as one could expect to the changes in the demand and supply factors and institutional shocks in this critical period in Chinese economic history.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17721.

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Date of creation: Jan 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17721

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  1. Baker, George & Gibbs, Michael & Holmstrom, Bengt, 1994. "The Wage Policy of a Firm," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(4), pages 921-55, November.
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  7. Gong, Gang & Lin, Justin Yifu, 2008. "Deflationary expansion: An overshooting perspective to the recent business cycle in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 1-17, March.
  8. Kahn, Lisa B., 2010. "The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 303-316, April.
  9. Appleton, Simon & Song, Lina & Xia, Qingjie, 2005. "Has China crossed the river? The evolution of wage structure in urban China during reform and retrenchment," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(4), pages 644-663, December.
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