The Dynamics of Relative Poverty in China in a Comparative Perspective



I use household panel data to study the dynamics of relative poverty in China, Germany, the UK, and the US. Compared to the three West-ern countries, not only is relative poverty more common in China, it is also deeper and more severe. Transient poverty accounts for less than half of the total poverty in Germany or the US, but about two thirds of that in China or the UK. Over three waves, 87 percent of Germans, 78 percent of Brits, 71 percent of Americans, but only 46 percent of Chinese were never poor. Using a multinomial logistic regression model, the determinants of poverty are found to be very similar across the four countries. But the variance explained of that model is much smaller for China than for the three Western countries. The findings of this paper also challenge some existing understanding of poverty dynamics in general.


Tak Wing Chan is a Professor of Quantitative Social Science at UCL Institute of Education. He is the programme leader of the BSc degree in Social Sciences with Quantitative Methods. A sociologist by background, his main research areas are social stratification and mobility, family and the life course, and the sociology of culture. His current ESRC-funded research project involves comparing household panel data from China, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, with a special focus on economic inequality and mobility in these countries. Other ongoing projects cover a wide range of topics, including intergenerational relations, cultural omnivores, the causal impact of sibship size on educational attainment, the social gradient of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and field experiments on racial discrimination in the labour market.

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