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Informal employment and its effect on the income distribution in urban China


  • Xue, Jinjun
  • Gao, Wenshu
  • Guo, Lin


This paper discusses the issue of informal employment and its effect on the income distribution in China using datasets from the China Urban Labour Surveys of 2005 and 2010. Based on a new definition of informal employment, we estimated the proportion of informal employment relative to total non-agricultural employment in urban China and found it to be 49.7% in 2005 and 40.3% in 2010. Meanwhile, our study illustrated that informal employees' earnings were 67% that of formal employees, and this large earnings gap raised the Gini coefficient to 0.42 in 2005. The Blinder–Oaxaca decomposition result shows that the earnings gap explains more than half of the overall personal income inequality in urban China. These results indicate that informal employment has a significant effect on the income distribution in urban China. Consequently, regulating the labour market, eliminating job discriminations and legislating the informal employment should be considered as alternative means of reducing inequality in China.

Suggested Citation

  • Xue, Jinjun & Gao, Wenshu & Guo, Lin, 2014. "Informal employment and its effect on the income distribution in urban China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 84-93.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:chieco:v:31:y:2014:i:c:p:84-93
    DOI: 10.1016/j.chieco.2014.07.012

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cai, Fang & Wang, Meiyan, 2010. "Growth and structural changes in employment in transition China," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 71-81, March.
    2. Krstic, Gorana & Sanfey, Peter, 2007. "Mobility, poverty and well-being among the informally employed in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 311-335, September.
    3. Bourguignon, Francois, 1979. "Decomposable Income Inequality Measures," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(4), pages 901-920, July.
    4. Olivier Bargain & Prudence Kwenda, 2011. "Earnings Structures, Informal Employment, And Self‐Employment: New Evidence From Brazil, Mexico, And South Africa," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 57, pages 100-122, May.
    5. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Introduction to "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings"," NBER Chapters,in: Schooling, Experience, and Earnings, pages 1-4 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Gustafsson, Bjorn & Shi, Li, 2001. "The Anatomy of Rising Earnings Inequality in Urban China," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 118-135, March.
    7. Stefan Gravemeyer & Thomas Gries & Jinjun Xue, 2011. "Income Determination and Income Discrimination in Shenzhen," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 48(7), pages 1457-1475, May.
    8. John Bennett & Matthew D. Rablen, 2015. "Self-employment, wage employment, and informality in a developing economy," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 67(2), pages 227-244.
    9. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
    10. Angel-Urdinola, Diego F. & Tanabe, Kimie, 2012. "Micro-determinants of informal employment in the Middle East and North Africa region," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 66594, The World Bank.
    11. Quheng Deng & Shi Li, 2009. "What Lies behind Rising Earnings Inequality in Urban China? Regression-based Decompositions," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 55(3-4), pages 598-623.
    12. Gorana Krstić & Peter Sanfey, 2011. "Earnings inequality and the informal economy," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 19(1), pages 179-199, January.
    13. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number minc74-1, January.
    14. Rosser, J. Jr. & Rosser, Marina V. & Ahmed, Ehsan, 2000. "Income Inequality and the Informal Economy in Transition Economies," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 156-171, March.
    15. Jonathan Haughton & Shahidur R. Khandker, 2009. "Handbook on Poverty and Inequality," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 11985.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tingting Li & Hualou Long & Shuangshuang Tu & Yanfei Wang, 2015. "Analysis of Income Inequality Based on Income Mobility for Poverty Alleviation in Rural China," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(12), pages 1-17, December.
    2. Ha, Wei & Yi, Junjian & Yuan, Ye & Zhang, Junsen, 2016. "The dynamic effect of rural-to-urban migration on inequality in source villages: System GMM estimates from rural China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 27-39.
    3. repec:eee:enepol:v:109:y:2017:i:c:p:208-217 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:gam:jsusta:v:7:y:2015:i:12:p:16362-16378:d:60411 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Informal employment; Wage differential; Income inequality; Urban China;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • P25 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies - - - Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population


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