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Ceaseless Toil? Health and Labor Supply of the Elderly in Rural China

  • Dwayne Benjamin
  • Loren Brandt
  • Jia-Zhueng Fan

Deborah Davis-Friedmann (1991) described the \"retirement\" pattern of the Chinese elderly in the prereform era as \"ceaseless toil\": lacking sufficient means of support, the elderly had to work their entire lives. In this paper we re-cast the metaphor of ceaseless toil in a labor supply model, where we highlight the role of age and deteriorating health. The empirical focus of our paper is (1) Documenting the labor supply patterns of elderly Chinese; and (2) Estimating the extent to which failing health drives retirement. We exploit the panel dimens ion of the 1991-93-97 waves of the China Health and Nutrition Survey, confronting a number of econometric issues, especially the possible contamination of age by cohort effects, and the measurement error of health. In the end, it appears that "ceaseless toil" is also an accurate depiction of elderly Chinese work patterns since economic reform, but failing health only plays a small observable role in explaining declining labor supply over the life-cycle.

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Paper provided by University of Toronto, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number benjamin-03-01.

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Length: 57 pages
Date of creation: 12 Jun 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:tor:tecipa:benjamin-03-01
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  1. John Bound, 1991. "Self-Reported Versus Objective Measures of Health in Retirement Models," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(1), pages 106-138.
  2. Anne Case & Darren Lubotsky & Christina Paxson, 2001. "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient," NBER Working Papers 8344, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Dwayne Benjamin & Loren Brandt, 2002. "Property rights, labour markets, and efficiency in a transition economy: the case of rural China," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 35(4), pages 689-716, November.
  4. Mark B. McClellan, 1998. "Health Events, Health Insurance, and Labor Supply: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Chapters, in: Frontiers in the Economics of Aging, pages 301-350 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Deaton, A., 1998. "Aging and Inequality in Income and Health," Papers 181, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Development Studies.
  6. Lumsdaine, Robin L. & Mitchell, Olivia S., 1999. "New developments in the economic analysis of retirement," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 49, pages 3261-3307 Elsevier.
  7. Lisa Cameron & Deborah Cobb-Clark, 2002. "Old-age labour supply in the developing world," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(10), pages 649-652.
  8. John M. Abowd & David Card, 1986. "On the Covariance Structure of Earnings and Hours Changes," NBER Working Papers 1832, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Bound, John & Schoenbaum, Michael & Stinebrickner, Todd R. & Waidmann, Timothy, 1999. "The dynamic effects of health on the labor force transitions of older workers," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 179-202, June.
  10. Parsons, Donald O, 1980. "The Decline in Male Labor Force Participation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(1), pages 117-34, February.
  11. Cox, Donald C & Jimenez, Emmanuel, 1992. "Social Security and Private Transfers in Developing Countries: The Case of Peru," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 6(1), pages 155-69, January.
  12. Dwayne Benjamin & Loren Brandt & Scott Rozelle, 1998. "Aging, Well-Being, And Social Security In Rural North China," Working Papers benjamin-98-01, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  13. Currie, Janet & Madrian, Brigitte C., 1999. "Health, health insurance and the labor market," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 50, pages 3309-3416 Elsevier.
  14. Laszlo, Sonia, 2008. "Education, Labor Supply, and Market Development in Rural Peru," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(11), pages 2421-2439, November.
  15. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709, March.
  16. Kathleen McGarry, 2002. "Health and Retirement: Do Changes in Health Affect Retirement Expectations?," NBER Working Papers 9317, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Michael Baker & Mark Stabile & Catherine Deri, 2001. "What do Self-Reported, Objective, Measures of Health Measure?," NBER Working Papers 8419, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Lisa Cameron, 2000. "The residency decision of elderly indonesians: A nested logit analysis," Demography, Springer, vol. 37(1), pages 17-27, February.
  19. Anderson, Kathryn H. & Burkhauser, Richard V., 1984. "The importance of the measure of health in empirical estimates of the labor supply of older men," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 16(3-4), pages 375-380.
  20. David Card, 1991. "Intertemporal Labor Supply: An Assessment," NBER Working Papers 3602, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Berger, Mark C. & Fleisher, Belton M., 1984. "Husband's health and wife's labor supply," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(1), pages 63-75, April.
  22. Hurd, Michael D, 1990. "Research on the Elderly: Economic Status, Retirement, and Consumption and Saving," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 28(2), pages 565-637, June.
  23. Cem Mete & T. Paul Schultz, 2002. "Health and Labor Force Participation of the Elderly in Taiwan," Working Papers 846, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
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