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Adjusting to Really Big Changes: The Labor Market in China, 1989-2009


  • Wei Chi
  • Richard B. Freeman
  • Hongbin Li


China's emerging labor market was buffeted by changes in demand and supply and institutional changes in the last two decades. Using the Chinese Urban Household Survey data from 1989 to 2009, our study shows that the market responded with substantial changes in the structure of wages and in employment and types of jobs that workers obtained that mirrors the adjustments found in labor markets in advanced economies. However, the one place where the Chinese labor market appears to diverge from the labor markets in advanced countries is the rapid convergence in earnings and occupational positions of cohorts who entered the job market under more or less favorable conditions. On this dimension, China's labor market seems more flexible than those in other countries. Three related factors may explain this pattern: (1) the rapid growth of China's economy; (2) the high rate of employee turnover; (3) the relative weakness of internal labor markets in China. Bottom line, the Chinese labor market has responded about as well as one could expect to the changes in the demand and supply factors and institutional shocks in this critical period in Chinese economic history.

Suggested Citation

  • Wei Chi & Richard B. Freeman & Hongbin Li, 2012. "Adjusting to Really Big Changes: The Labor Market in China, 1989-2009," NBER Working Papers 17721, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17721
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gong, Gang & Lin, Justin Yifu, 2008. "Deflationary expansion: An overshooting perspective to the recent business cycle in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 1-17, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ralph W. Huenemann, 2014. "The World Bank and China: Future Prospects," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 251-256, January.
    2. Knight, John & Deng, Quheng & Li, Shi, 2017. "China’s expansion of higher education: The labour market consequences of a supply shock," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 127-141.
    3. Chunbing Xing & Jianwei Xu, 2016. "Regional variation of the minimum wages in China," IZA Journal of Labor & Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-22, December.
    4. Liu, Jing & Xing, Chunbing, 2016. "Migrate for education: An unintended effect of school district combination in rural China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 192-206.

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    JEL classification:

    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs

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