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Rural Income Volatility and Inequality in China

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  • John Whalley
  • Ximing Yue

Abstract

Available data indicates a growing urban-rural income gap (the ratio of mean urban to rural incomes) with a significant increase from around 1.8 in the late 1980's to over 3 today. These estimates do not take into account the higher volatility of rural incomes in China. Current literature based on analyses of rural income volatility in China decomposes poverty into chronic and transient components using longitudinal survey data and assesses the fraction of the Foster, Greer and Thorbecke poverty gap attributable to mean income over time being below the poverty line. Resulting estimates of 40-50 % transient poverty point to the policy conclusion that poverty may be a less serious social problem than it appears in annual data due to rural income volatility. Here we use a direct method instead to adjust rural income for volatility using a certainty equivalent income measure and recompute summary statistics for the distribution of volatility corrected incomes, including the urban-rural income gap on which much of current poverty debate in China focuses. Since an uncertain income stream is worth less in utility terms than a certain income stream we argue that heightened rural volatility increases the effective urban-rural income gap and intensifies not weakens poverty concerns. Using Chinese longitudinal rural survey data for which current decompositions can be replicated, we make adjustments for certainty equivalence of rural household income streams which not only widen the urban-rural income gap in China but also increases other distributional summary statistics. Depending upon values used for the coefficient of relative risk aversion, the measured urban-rural income gap increases by 20-30% using a certainty equivalent measure to adjust rural incomes for volatility. We also conduct similar analyses using consumption data, for which slightly larger increases occur.

Suggested Citation

  • John Whalley & Ximing Yue, 2006. "Rural Income Volatility and Inequality in China," NBER Working Papers 12779, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12779
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Foster, James & Greer, Joel & Thorbecke, Erik, 1984. "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 761-766, May.
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    3. Chen, Shaohua & Ravallion, Martin, 1996. "Data in transition: Assessing rural living standards in Southern China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 23-56.
    4. Joan R. Rodgers & John L. Rodgers, 1993. "Chronic Poverty in the United States," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 28(1), pages 25-54.
    5. Terry Sicular & Yue Ximing & Björn Gustafsson & Li Shi, 2007. "The Urban–Rural Income Gap And Inequality In China," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 53(1), pages 93-126, March.
    6. Ravallion, Martin, 1988. "Expected Poverty under Risk-Induced Welfare Variability," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 98(393), pages 1171-1182, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. You, Jing & Imai, Katsushi S. & Gaiha, Raghav, 2016. "Declining Nutrient Intake in a Growing China: Does Household Heterogeneity Matter?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 171-191.
    2. Zhao, Zhong, 2007. "Earnings Instability and Earnings Inequality in Urban China: 1989–2006," IZA Discussion Papers 3270, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Giorgia Menta & Edward N. Wolff & Conchita D’ Ambrosio, 2021. "Income and wealth volatility: evidence from Italy and the U.S. in the past two decades," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 19(2), pages 293-313, June.
    4. Zhong Zhao, 2010. "Earnings Instability and Earnings Inequality in Urban China: 1989–2006," Working Papers id:2783, eSocialSciences.
    5. Conchita D'Ambrosio & Giorgia Menta & Edward N. Wolff, 2019. "Income and Wealth Volatility: Evidence from Italy and the U.S. in the Past Two Decades," NBER Working Papers 26527, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Chen, Xi & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2009. "The Distribution of Income and Well-Being in Rural China: A Survey of Panel Data Sets, Studies and New Directions," MPRA Paper 20587, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • O20 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - General
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East

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