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The Evolution of Income Inequality in Rural China

  • Benjamin, Dwayne
  • Brandt, Loren
  • Giles, John

In this article we analyze trends in income inequality and the distribution of income in rural China from 1987 to 1999. We find an uneven but long-run increase in inequality in rural China and show that nearly half of the rural population was not much better off in 1999 than at the start of the period. We rule out geography as the most important factor for explaining income differences and the increases that occurred over time. Much more important were growing differences between households living in the same village, province, or region. We also find that access to nonagricultural incomes from local wage employment and family businesses contributes to inequality but that employment outside the county in which a household lives and accessed through temporary migration is relatively equalizing. Finally, we document important strengths and weaknesses of the primary data set used for our analyses relative to other data sources available for study of inequality and poverty in rural China.

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/428713
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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Economic Development and Cultural Change.

Volume (Year): 53 (2005)
Issue (Month): 4 (July)
Pages: 769-824

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:ecdecc:y:2005:v:53:i:4:p:769-824
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/EDCC/

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  1. Ravallion, Martin & Shaohua Chen, 1998. "When economic reform is faster than statistical reform - measuring and explaining inequality in rural China," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1902, The World Bank.
  2. Jonathan Morduch & Terry Sicular, 2002. "Rethinking Inequality Decomposition, With Evidence from Rural China," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(476), pages 93-106, January.
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  4. Kai-yuen, Tsui, 1998. "Trends and Inequalities of Rural Welfare in China: Evidence from Rural Households in Guangdong and Sichuan," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 783-804, December.
  5. Haddad, L. & Kanbur, R., 1989. "How Serious Is The Neglectof Intra-Household Inequality?," Papers 450, Stockholm - International Economic Studies.
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  7. Kanbur, Ravi & Zhang, Xiaobo, 1999. "Which Regional Inequality? The Evolution of Rural-Urban and Inland-Coastal Inequality in China from 1983 to 1995," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 686-701, December.
  8. Dayton-Johnson, Jeff & Bardhan, Pranab, 1996. "Inequality and Conservation on the Local Commons: A Theoretical Exercise," Center for International and Development Economics Research, Working Paper Series qt7f9913w9, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
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  10. Loren Brandt & Dwayne Benjamin, 2002. "Property Rights, Labour Markets, and Efficiency in a Transition Economy: The Case of Rural China," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 518, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  11. Hare, Denise, 1994. "Rural nonagricultural activities and their impact on the distribution of income: Evidence from farm households in Southern China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 59-82.
  12. Aghion, Philippe & Caroli, Eve & García-Peñalosa, Cecilia, 1999. "Inequality and Economic Growth: The Perspective of the New Growth Theories," Scholarly Articles 12502063, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  13. Gustafsson, Bjorn & Shi, Li, 2002. "Income inequality within and across counties in rural China 1988 and 1995," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 179-204, October.
  14. Angus Deaton, 2004. "Measuring poverty in a growing world (or measuring growth in a poor world)," Working Papers 178, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  15. Ravallion, Martin & Chen, Shaohua, 1999. " When Economic Reform Is Faster Than Statistical Reform: Measuring and Explaining Income Inequality in Rural China," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 61(1), pages 33-56, February.
  16. Cai, Fang & Wang, Dewen & Du, Yang, 2002. "Regional disparity and economic growth in China: The impact of labor market distortions," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 13(2-3), pages 197-212.
  17. Rozelle Scott, 1994. "Rural Industrialization and Increasing Inequality: Emerging Patterns in China's Reforming Economy," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 362-391, December.
  18. Shorrocks, A F, 1982. "Inequality Decomposition by Factor Components," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(1), pages 193-211, January.
  19. Deininger, Klaus & Squire, Lyn, 1996. "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(3), pages 565-91, September.
  20. Rawski, Thomas G., 2001. "What is happening to China's GDP statistics?," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 12(4), pages 347-354.
  21. Benjamin, Dwayne & Brandt, Loren, 1997. "Land, Factor Markets, and Inequality in Rural China: Historical Evidence," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 460-494, October.
  22. Keith Griffin & Azizur Rahman Khan & Carl Riskin, 1999. "Income Distribution in Urban China during the Period of Economic Reform and Globalization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 296-300, May.
  23. Anthony F. Shorrocks, 1983. "The Impact of Income Components on the Distribution of Family Incomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(2), pages 311-326.
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