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The Economics of Communist Party Membership: The Curious Case of Rising Numbers and Wage Premium during China's Transition


  • Simon Appleton
  • John Knight
  • Lina Song
  • Qingjie Xia


As the Chinese Communist Party has loosened its grip in a more market-oriented economy, why have membership and the economic benefits of joining risen? We use three national household surveys over 11 years to answer this question for wages in urban China. Individual demand for Party membership is treated as an investment in 'political capital' that brings monetary rewards in terms of a wage premium that has risen in recent years. However, this does not explain why the wage premium is higher for the personal characteristics that reduce the probability of membership. Rationing with a scarcity value for members with those characteristics provides an explanation.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon Appleton & John Knight & Lina Song & Qingjie Xia, 2009. "The Economics of Communist Party Membership: The Curious Case of Rising Numbers and Wage Premium during China's Transition," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(2), pages 256-275.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jdevst:v:45:y:2009:i:2:p:256-275
    DOI: 10.1080/00220380802264739

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hongbin Li & Pak Wai Liu & Ning Ma & Junsen Zhang, 2005. "Economic Returns to Communist Party Membership: Evidence from Chinese Twins," Discussion Papers 00015, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Department of Economics.
    2. John Knight & Lina Song, 2003. "Increasing urban wage inequality in China," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 11(4), pages 597-619, December.
    3. Appleton, Simon & Knight, John & Song, Lina & Xia, Qingjie, 2002. "Labor retrenchment in China: Determinants and consequences," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 13(2-3), pages 252-275.
    4. Hongbin Li & PakWai Liu & Junsen Zhang & Ning Ma, 2007. "Economic Returns to Communist Party Membership: Evidence From Urban Chinese Twins," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(523), pages 1504-1520, October.
    5. Heckman, James, 2013. "Sample selection bias as a specification error," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 31(3), pages 129-137.
    6. Liu, Zhiqiang, 2003. "The Economic Impact and Determinants of Investment in Human and Political Capital in China," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 51(4), pages 823-849, July.
    7. Ashenfelter, Orley & Krueger, Alan B, 1994. "Estimates of the Economic Returns to Schooling from a New Sample of Twins," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1157-1173, December.
    8. Groves, Theodore & Yongmiao Hong & John McMillan & Barry Naughton, 1995. "China's Evolving Managerial Labor Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(4), pages 873-892, August.
    9. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Asadullah, Niaz & Xiao, Saizi & Yeoh, Emile Kok-Kheng, 2016. "Subjective Well-being in China, 2005-2010: The Role of Relative Income, Gender and Location," IZA Discussion Papers 9637, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Suchuan Zhang, 2014. "Impact of Job Involvement on Organizational Citizenship Behaviors in China," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 120(2), pages 165-174, March.
    3. repec:eee:jcecon:v:45:y:2017:i:4:p:963-983 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Appleton, Simon & Song, Lina & Xia, Qingjie, 2014. "Understanding Urban Wage Inequality in China 1988–2008: Evidence from Quantile Analysis," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 1-13.
    5. Yamamura, Eiji & Smyth, Russell & Zhang, Yan, 2015. "Decomposing the effect of height on income in China: The role of market and political channels," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 62-74.
    6. Chadwick Curtis, 2016. "Economic Reforms and the Evolution of China's Total Factor Productivity," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 21, pages 225-245, July.
    7. Appleton, Simon & Song, Lina, 2008. "Life Satisfaction in Urban China: Components and Determinants," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(11), pages 2325-2340, November.
    8. Matthias Blum & Alan de Bromhead, 2017. "Rise and Fall in the Third Reich: Social Mobility and Nazi Membership," Economics Working Papers 17-01, Queen's Management School, Queen's University Belfast.
    9. repec:spr:soinre:v:132:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1244-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Bohacek, Radim & Myck, Michal, 2017. "Economic Consequences of Political Persecution," IZA Discussion Papers 11136, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. repec:tpr:asiaec:v:16:y:2017:i:2:p:167-184 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Yao, Yang & Yueh, Linda, 2009. "Law, Finance, and Economic Growth in China: An Introduction," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 753-762, April.
    13. Gustafsson, Björn Anders & Sai, Ding, 2008. "Rank, Income and Income Inequality in Urban China," IZA Discussion Papers 3843, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J08 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics Policies
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials


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