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Income Inequality During China's Economic Transition

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  • Dwayne Benjamin
  • Loren Brandt
  • John Giles
  • Sangui Wang

Abstract

This paper provides an overview of the evolution of income inequality in China from 1987 to 2002, employing three series of data sets. Our focus is on both urban and rural inequality, as well as the urban-rural gap, with the objective of summarizing several “first-order” empirical patterns concerning the trajectory of inequality through the reform period. We document significant increases of inequality within China’s urban and rural populations. In rural areas, increased inequality is primarily related to the dis-equalizing role of non-agricultural self-employment income and slow growth in agricultural income from the mid-1990s onward. Poverty persists, and tied in part to slow growth in agricultural commodity prices. In urban areas, the declining role of subsidies and entitlements, the increase in wage inequality and the layoffs during restructuring, have fueled the growth in inequality within urban areas. Poverty levels, however, are very low. We find that spatial (regional) dimensions of inequality are significant, but are much less important than commonly believed for both the urban and rural populations, and for differences between urban and rural areas. Accounting for urban-rural reclassification, which otherwise exaggerates the rising urban-rural gap, we find a relatively stable ratio of urban to rural incomes. This hides some geographical variation, however: The urban-rural gap is increasing more rapidly in interior provinces, where SOE’s had a more dominant role in economic activity in urban areas, than in coastal provinces where the non-state sector was more important earlier in the reform period.

Suggested Citation

  • Dwayne Benjamin & Loren Brandt & John Giles & Sangui Wang, 2005. "Income Inequality During China's Economic Transition," Working Papers tecipa-238, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tor:tecipa:tecipa-238
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    File URL: https://www.economics.utoronto.ca/public/workingPapers/BBGW.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Keith Griffin & Azizur Rahman Khan & Carl Riskin, 1999. "Income Distribution in Urban China during the Period of Economic Reform and Globalization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 296-300, May.
    2. Dwayne Benjamin & Loren Brandt & Paul Glewwe & Li Guo, 2000. "Markets, Human Capital, and Inequality: Evidence from Rural China," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 298, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
    3. Benjamin, Dwayne & Brandt, Loren & Giles, John, 2005. "The Evolution of Income Inequality in Rural China," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(4), pages 769-824, July.
    4. Rawski, Thomas G., 1982. "The Simple Arithmetic of Chinese Income Distribution," Economic Review, Hitotsubashi University, vol. 33(1), pages 12-26, January.
    5. Loren Brandt & Dwayne Benjamin, 1999. "Markets and Inequality in Rural China: Parallels with the Past," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 292-295, May.
    6. Anthony F. Shorrocks, 1983. "The Impact of Income Components on the Distribution of Family Incomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(2), pages 311-326.
    7. Ravallion, Martin & Chen, Shaohua, 2007. "China's (uneven) progress against poverty," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 1-42, January.
    8. Hare, Denise, 1994. "Rural nonagricultural activities and their impact on the distribution of income: Evidence from farm households in Southern China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 59-82.
    9. Xin Meng, 2004. "Economic Restructuring and Income Inequality in Urban China," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 50(3), pages 357-379, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2019. "Capital Accumulation, Private Property, and Rising Inequality in China, 1978–2015," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(7), pages 2469-2496, July.
    2. Ahrens, Joachim & Jünemann, Patrick, 2010. "Transitional institutions, institutional complementarities and economic performance in China: A 'Varieties of Capitalism' approach," Discourses in Social Market Economy 2010-11, OrdnungsPolitisches Portal (OPO).
    3. Honge Gong & Andrew Leigh & Xin Meng, 2012. "Intergenerational Income Mobility In Urban China," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 58(3), pages 481-503, September.
    4. Abdelkrim Araar, 2008. "On the Decomposition of Polarization Indices: Illustrations with Chinese and Nigerian Household Surveys," Cahiers de recherche 0806, CIRPEE.
    5. Stephen P. Jenkins & John Micklewright, 2007. "New Directions in the Analysis of Inequality and Poverty," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 700, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    6. Wing Thye Woo, 2007. "The Challenges of Governance Structure, Trade Disputes and Natural Environment to China's Growth," Comparative Economic Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Association for Comparative Economic Studies, vol. 49(4), pages 572-602, December.
    7. Ankita Mishra & Ranjan Ray, 2010. "Multi Dimensional Deprivation in the Awakening Giants: A Comparative Study on Micro Data," Monash Economics Working Papers 53-10, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    8. Dwayne Benjamin & Loren Brandt & John Giles, 2006. "Inequality and Growth in Rural China: Does Higher Inequality Impede Growth?," Working Papers tecipa-237, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    9. Donatella Saccone, 2013. "Income concentration in China: what role for education?," International Journal of Education Economics and Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 4(2), pages 101-116.
    10. Zheng Song & Kjetil Storesletten & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2011. "Growing Like China," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(1), pages 196-233, February.
    11. Xin Meng & Kailing Shen & Sen Xue, 2010. "Economic Reform, Education Expansion, and Earnings Inequality for Urban Males in China, 1988-2007," CEPR Discussion Papers 639, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    12. Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2019. "Capital Accumulation, Private Property, and Rising Inequality in China, 1978–2015," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(7), pages 2469-2496, July.
    13. Saccone Donatella, 2008. "Educational Inequality and Educational Poverty. the Chinese Case in the Period 1975-2004," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 200808, University of Turin.
    14. Saccone Donatella, 2011. "Potenze economiche emergenti: Cina e India a confronto.Istruzione e diseguaglianze," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 201113, University of Turin.
    15. Cai, Lixin & Liu, Amy Y.C., 2015. "Wage determination and distribution in urban China and Vietnam: A comparative analysis," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 186-203.
    16. C�line Bonnefond & Matthieu Cl�ment, 2012. "An analysis of income polarisation in rural and urban China," Post-Communist Economies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(1), pages 15-37, June.
    17. Yuanyuan Chen & Shuaizhang Feng, 2011. "Parental Education and Wages: Evidence from China," Frontiers of Economics in China, Higher Education Press, vol. 6(4), pages 568-591, December.
    18. Beerli, Andreas & Weiss, Franziska J. & Zilibotti, Fabrizio & Zweimüller, Josef, 2020. "Demand forces of technical change evidence from the Chinese manufacturing industry," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 60(C).
    19. 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.
    20. Li, Guoping & Zeng, Xianfeng & Zhang, Lizhen, 2008. "Study of Agricultural Productivity and Its Convergence across China's Regions," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 38(3), pages 361-379.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    China; Income Distribution; Poverty; Inequality; welfare; transition; development;

    JEL classification:

    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • P2 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution

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