Trends in social mobility in postrevolution China
In this paper, we study long-term trends in social mobility in the People’s Republic of China since its inception in 1949, with two operationalizations: 1) intergenerational occupational mobility and 2) intergenerational educational mobility. We draw on an accumulation of administrative and survey data and provide comparable estimates of these measures for birth cohorts born after 1945. To help interpret the results, we compare trends in China to those in the United States for the same birth cohorts. We find an increase in intergenerational occupational mobility in China due to its rapid industrialization in recent decades. Net of industrialization, however, intergenerational occupational mobility has been declining for recent cohorts. Intergenerational educational mobility in China shows a similar declining trend. In addition, mobility patterns have differed greatly by gender, with women in earlier cohorts and from a rural origin particularly disadvantaged. We attribute the general decline in social mobility to market forces that have taken hold since China’s economic reform that began in 1978. In contrast, social mobility by both measures has been relatively stable in the United States. However, while social mobility in China has trended downward, it is still higher than that in the United States, except for women’s educational mobility.