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The Erroneous Use Of China'S Population And Per Capita Data: A Structured Review And Critical Test

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  • John Gibson
  • Chao Li

Abstract

Hundreds of studies in economics misinterpret China’s sub-national population and per capita data. The most widely used population counts are of hukou registrations from each province, prefecture, county, or city rather than of the people living in each place and generating local GDP. Over 220 million people have left their place of registration, while almost none had when reforms began, creating time-varying errors in estimates of per capita income of sub-national units. We survey empirical articles in blue ribbon journals, in development journals, and in regional and urban economics journals that use China’s sub-national data. Over 80 percent of articles use these data erroneously; most commonly the wrong population or employment counts are used to measure the size of sub-national units, and per capita data are calculated with the wrong denominator for the interpretation placed on variables. We provide examples of errors from each group of journals, and a critical test of one highly-cited study. Specifically, we show that if hukou registrations are erroneously used to measure the local population, following existing practice, conclusions about driving forces for urban area expansion are reversed. We give recommendations for more careful use of China’s sub-national population and per capita data.
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Suggested Citation

  • John Gibson & Chao Li, 2017. "The Erroneous Use Of China'S Population And Per Capita Data: A Structured Review And Critical Test," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 31(4), pages 905-922, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jecsur:v:31:y:2017:i:4:p:905-922
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    Cited by:

    1. John Gibson & Chao Li, 2018. "The “Belt and Road Initiative†and comparative regional productivity in China," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 5(2), pages 168-181, May.
    2. Kanbur, Ravi & Wang, Yue & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2017. "The Great Chinese Inequality Turnaround," CEPR Discussion Papers 11892, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Chao Li & John Gibson, 2018. "Regional Inequality in China allowing for Spatial Cost-of-Living Differences: Evidence from a Hedonic Analysis of Apartment Prices," Working Papers in Economics 18/12, University of Waikato.
    4. Stern, David I. & Zha, Donglan, 2016. "Economic growth and particulate pollution concentrations in China," Working Papers 249522, Australian National University, Centre for Climate Economics & Policy.
    5. David I. Stern & Donglan Zha, 2016. "Economic growth and particulate pollution concentrations in China," Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, Springer;Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies - SEEPS, vol. 18(3), pages 327-338, July.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes

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