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A generalized Okun's Law: Uncovering the myth of China's labor market resilience


  • Xiaoguang Liu
  • Raphael Lam
  • Alfred Schipke
  • Guangjun Shen


A stable labor market is a policy priority for most countries, especially after the burst of the global financial crisis. Unlike most countries, the labor market in China appears to be holding up well, despite sharp slowdown in economic growth. This paper argues that there are underlying fundamental mechanisms that help explain the resilience of China's labor market. The key to understanding labor market dynamics in China is that rural‐to‐urban migrant flows are more sensitive to growth than urban workers in the process of fast urbanization, which serves as a main shock absorber to buffer employment against adverse shocks. Therefore, we propose a generalized Okun's Law (GOL) that incorporates migrant flows with unemployment rates to capture the relation between labor market dynamics and economic cycles. The original Okun's Law can be regarded as a special case of the GOL for developed countries that have already completed urbanization. Conducting empirical analysis with both China's national‐ and city‐level data and cross‐country panel data, we find strong evidence supporting the GOL theory. Findings in the paper have implications for a deeper understanding of the wisdom of Okun's Law and its application in labor market policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Xiaoguang Liu & Raphael Lam & Alfred Schipke & Guangjun Shen, 2018. "A generalized Okun's Law: Uncovering the myth of China's labor market resilience," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 22(3), pages 1195-1216, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:rdevec:v:22:y:2018:i:3:p:1195-1216
    DOI: 10.1111/rode.12379

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