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The Contribution of Supply and Demand Shifts to Earnings Inequality in Urban China

Discussion Papers


October 2008 (Revised in June 2009)


This paper examines the degree to which supply and demand shift across skill groups contributed to the earnings inequality increase in urban China from 1988 to 2002. Product demand shift contributed to an equalizing of earnings distribution in urban China from 1988 to 1995 by increasing the relative product for the low educated. However, it contributed to enlarging inequality from 1995 to 2002 by increasing the relative demand for the highly educated. Relative demand was continuously higher for workers in the coastal region and contributed to a raising of interregional inequality. Supply shift contributed essentially nothing or contributed only slightly to a reduction in inequality. Remaining factors, the largest disequalizer, may contain skill-biased technological and institutional changes, and unobserved supply shift effects due to increasing numbers of migrant workers.

Keywords: urban China, earnings inequality, inequality decomposition
JEL classification: D31, J31

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