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Has China run out of surplus labour?

Listed author(s):
  • Golley, Jane
  • Meng, Xin

Many recent studies claim that China has reached a Lewisian ‘turning point’ in economic development, signalled by rising wages in urban areas and the exhaustion of rural surplus labour. In this paper we show that despite some evidence of rising nominal urban unskilled wages between 2000 and 2009, there is little in the data to suggest that this wage increase has been caused by unskilled labour shortages. China still has abundant under-employed workers with very low income in the rural sector. We argue that China's unique institutional and policy-induced barriers to migration have both prevented many rural workers from migrating to cities and also reduced the migrants' length of stay. We project that under alternative institutional settings, the migrant stock could easily be doubled from the current 150million to 300million by increasing either the average length of migrant stay, or the migrant inflow, or both.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal China Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 22 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 ()
Pages: 555-572

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Handle: RePEc:eee:chieco:v:22:y:2011:i:4:p:555-572
DOI: 10.1016/j.chieco.2011.07.006
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/chieco

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  1. Knight, J & Song, L & Huaibin, J, 1997. "Chinese Rural Migrants in Urban Enterprises : Three Perspectives," Economics Series Working Papers 99190, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  2. Sylvie Démurger & Marc Gurgand & Li Shi & Yu Ximing, 2008. "Migrants as second-class workers in urban China? A decomposition analysis," Working Papers 0808, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique (GATE), Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Université Lyon 2, Ecole Normale Supérieure.
  3. Nazrul Islam & Kazuhiko Yokota, 2008. "Lewis Growth Model and China's Industrialization ," Asian Economic Journal, East Asian Economic Association, vol. 22(4), pages 359-396, December.
  4. Sylvie DÉMURGER & Martin FOURNIER & Yi CHEN, 2007. "The Evolution Of Gender Earnings Gaps And Discrimination In Urban China, 1988-95," The Developing Economies, Institute of Developing Economies, vol. 45(1), pages 97-121.
  5. Zhang, Junsen & Zhao, Yaohui & Park, Albert & Song, Xiaoqing, 2005. "Economic returns to schooling in urban China, 1988 to 2001," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(4), pages 730-752, December.
  6. Leng Lee & Xin Meng, 2010. "Why Don’t More Chinese Migrate from the Countryside? Institutional Constraints and the Migration Decision," Chapters, in: The Great Migration, chapter 2 Edward Elgar Publishing.
  7. Simon Appleton & John Knight & Lina Song & Qingjie Xia, 2004. "Contrasting paradigms: segmentation and competitiveness in the formation of the chinese labour market," Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 2(3), pages 185-205.
  8. Knight, John & Deng, Quheng & Li, Shi, 2011. "The puzzle of migrant labour shortage and rural labour surplus in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 585-600.
  9. Meng, Xin & Zhang, Junsen, 2001. "The Two-Tier Labor Market in Urban China: Occupational Segregation and Wage Differentials between Urban Residents and Rural Migrants in Shanghai," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 485-504, September.
  10. Chun-Chung Au & J. Vernon Henderson, 2006. "Are Chinese Cities Too Small?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(3), pages 549-576.
  11. "Minami, Ryoshin", 1968. "The Turning Point in the Japanese Economy," Economic Review, Hitotsubashi University, vol. 19(3), pages 220-229, July.
  12. Ryoshin Minami, 1968. "The Turning Point in the Japanese Economy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(3), pages 380-402.
  13. Tao Ran & Ray Brooks, 2003. "China's Labor Market Performance and Challenges," IMF Working Papers 03/210, .
  14. Gustav Ranis, 2004. "ARTHUR LEWIS's CONTRIBUTION TO DEVELOPMENT THINKING AND POLICY," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 72(6), pages 712-723, December.
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