Zhou, X., & Xie, Y. (2017). Market Transition, Industrialization, and Social Mobility Trends in Post-Revolution China.

Stratification scholars have long speculated about the influence of political institutions and economic development on intergenerational social mobility. China provides a rare opportunity to evaluate these speculations, as it has experienced rapid industrial expansion as well as the demise of socialism since its economic reforms that began in 1978. Analyzing intergenerational data from six comparable, nationally representative surveys between 1996 and 2012, we uncover two countervailing trends in social mobility in post-revolution China. On the one hand, we find evidence of a decline in social fluidity following China’s transition from state socialism to a market economy, as the link between origin and destination in vertical social status has significantly strengthened. On the other hand, horizontal mobility between the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors has increased sharply during the country’s recent industrialization. To interpret these trends in a global context, we compare China’s experience with those in 11 advanced industrial countries. We find that despite its recent decline, social fluidity in China is still higher than in most mature capitalist societies. Moreover, the rise of horizontal mobility between the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors in China, when combined with cross-national experience, suggests a curvilinear relationship between industrialization and social mobility, as the barrier between the farming and nonfarming classes tends to be weakest among societies at the middle stages of industrialization. [Read More]