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Relocating or Redefined: A New Perspective on Urbanization in China


  • Li Gan
  • Qing He
  • Ruichao Si
  • Daichun Yi


China's fast economic growth over the past 40 years has been accompanied by an increasingly rapid rate of urbanization, from about 20% in the early 1980s to 60% in 2018. In addition to natural population growth, rural-urban migration is generally believed to be a dominant driving force. Motivated by a recent finding of a high housing vacancy rate in urban China, however, we find that a large share of urban population growth comes from community reclassification. These redefined migrants (from communities which were reclassified from rural to urban) accounted for 33.4% of total urban population growth from 2010 to 2015. Households in reclassified communities share similar characteristics with those from rural villages, particularly in their ownership of housing. Furthermore, we provide evidence that at the prefecture level, the size of redefined migrants is significantly related to residential land supply, and to the proportion of households holding vacant housing units, but not to the change of night-time light. These results suggest that an inaccurate account of urbanization is an important factor for the oversupply of residential housing units in China.

Suggested Citation

  • Li Gan & Qing He & Ruichao Si & Daichun Yi, 2019. "Relocating or Redefined: A New Perspective on Urbanization in China," NBER Working Papers 26585, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:26585
    Note: DEV PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Deng, Xiangzheng & Huang, Jikun & Rozelle, Scott & Uchida, Emi, 2008. "Growth, population and industrialization, and urban land expansion of China," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 96-115, January.
    2. Lichtenberg, Erik & Ding, Chengri, 2009. "Local officials as land developers: Urban spatial expansion in China," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 57-64, July.
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    4. Glaeser, Edward & Henderson, J. Vernon, 2017. "Urban economics for the developing World: An introduction," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 1-5.
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    6. Jipeng Zhang & Jianyong Fan & Jiawei Mo, 2017. "Government Intervention, Land Market, And Urban Development: Evidence From Chinese Cities," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 55(1), pages 115-136, January.
    7. Dave Donaldson & Adam Storeygard, 2016. "The View from Above: Applications of Satellite Data in Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(4), pages 171-198, Fall.
    8. Jonathan I. Dingel & Antonio Miscio & Donald R. Davis, 2019. "Cities, Lights, and Skills in Developing Economies," NBER Working Papers 25678, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    JEL classification:

    • O18 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Urban, Rural, Regional, and Transportation Analysis; Housing; Infrastructure
    • R31 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Housing Supply and Markets
    • R52 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Regional Government Analysis - - - Land Use and Other Regulations

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