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Inequality and Growth in Rural China: Does Higher Inequality Impede Growth?

  • Dwayne Benjamin
  • Loren Brandt
  • John Giles

We explore the relationship between the level of village inequality in 1986, and the subsequent growth of household incomes from 1986 to 1999. Using a detailed household-level data set from rural China, we find robust evidence that initial inequality is negatively related to subsequent household income growth. We are able to address a number of econometric issues that affect the use of aggregate data for this exercise, especially measurement error and aggregation: Our results strongly suggest that village inequality has an external adverse impact on household-level income trajectories. However, once we account for possibly fixed village-level unobserved heterogeneity, we find no evidence that changes in inequality are correlated with household income growth: Whatever factor drives the inequality-growth relationship only operates in the “long run.” We explore several possible avenues by which initial inequality – or an unobserved variable correlated with it – affects household income growth. While we do not find the precise mechanism, our findings point toward a class of explanations based on collective choice (like the provision of public goods or determination of local taxes), and away from credit-market based explanations.

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Paper provided by University of Toronto, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number tecipa-237.

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Date of creation: 19 Jun 2006
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Handle: RePEc:tor:tecipa:tecipa-237
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