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Social mobility in China and Britain: a comparative study

Yaojun Li
  • Department of Sociology and the Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research, Manchester University, UK
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Shun Zhang / Jianxun Kong
Published Online: 2015-06-30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/irsr-2015-0003


This paper looks at social mobility in China and Britain. It explores whether the rapid economic development in China in the last thirty years has brought its mobility closer to that in Britain. It also examines the effects of China’s household registration system (hukou) on people’s mobility chances. Using national representative surveys in the two countries, we found a convergence in total mobility in the two countries but higher levels of inequality in China in terms of relative mobility. Chinese women faced the greatest disadvantages. The prime driver for social inequality in China was the hukou system. Rural people in China had very limited opportunities for education but even those who had similar levels of education were still very much hampered by the hukou penalty in trying to gain access to advantaged positions. Both societies are highly unequal but China has an additional barrier.

Keywords: Social mobility; class; gender; hukou; China; Britain


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-06-30

Citation Information: International Review of Social Research, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 20–34, ISSN (Online) 2069-8534, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/irsr-2015-0003.

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© Yaojun Li et al.. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

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