Intergenerational Mobility in Contemporary China: 1996-2006

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Meng Chen


This thesis aims at systematically investigating intergenerational class mobility in contemporary China between 1996 and 2006, a period of time that largely overlaps the third decade of the country's reform era. The study seeks answers to the following questions: 1) to what extent Chinese are found in class positions that differ from their class origins; 2) whether the amount of intergenerational mobility increased during the decade in question; 3) whether China has become a more equal society in terms of social mobility; 4) what are the overall patterns of social fluidity in China; and, 5) how mobility outcomes are affected by work-life mobility and various demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, such as gender and the household registration (hukou) background.This research uses nationally representative survey data from three surveys - the Life Histories and Social Change Survey (1996) and the Chinese General Social Surveys (CGSS 2005 and CGSS 2006). I adopt the class structural approach and the EGP (Erikson-Goldthorpe-Protocarero) class schema. Various statistical methods are employed to explore the above issues: descriptive analysis for changes of China's class structure, absolute rates of mobility and work-life mobility from the first job class to class of destination; log-linear and log-multiplicative analysis for trends and between-group differences in relative mobility; the Hauser-type density levels model and the core model of social fluidity for patterns of social fluidity; and the Stereotype Ordinal Regression Model for multivariate analysis of mobility outcomes. During the decade, China has become a more 'mobile' society in an upgraded structural context. While the relative size of the agricultural sector contracted substantially, there is a significant increase in the non-agricultural 'room' for occupational attainment, especially in the routine non-manual class and manual working classes. However, the analysis of relative mobility shows that the significant increase in total mobility and upward mobility has resulted mainly from structural changes. Between 1996 and 2006, the origin-destination association net of structural effects has been largely stable. Hence, the study provides little evidence in support of a more equal Chinese society. As regards gender differences, Chinese women are less socially mobile than men, and their mobility outcomes tend to be more affected than men by their social origin.In fitting the density levels model and the core model of social fluidity to the pooled data, I show that the highest likelihood of occurrence lies with the self-inheritance of peasants as well as small business owners. In contrast, mobility between the agricultural sector and non-manual classes displays the lowest likelihood of occurrence. While relative chances of mobility for both men and women are heavily affected the boundary between agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, women are further subject to the hierarchical effect that hinders long-range mobility. In the final part of the empirical analyses, I reveal the decisive role that the first job class plays in mobility processes in China. The results of the multivariate analysis also indicate that the institutional barriers imposed by the hukou system have a striking negative effect on mobility chances.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Yaojun Li (Supervisor)
  • Laura Morales-Diez De Ulzu (Supervisor)
Award date1 Aug 2013