The great Chinese inequality turnaround uri icon

abstract

  • This paper argues that after a quarter century of sharp and sustained increase, Chinese inequality is now plateauing and, according to some measures, even declining. A number of papers have been harbingers of this conclusion, but this paper consolidates the literature indicating a turnaround, and provides empirical foundations for it. The argument is made using a range of data sources and a range of measures and perspectives on inequality. The evolution of inequality is further examined through decomposition by income source and population subgroup. Some preliminary explanations are provided for these trends in terms of shifts in policy and the structural transformation of the Chinese economy. We relate the turnaround to two classic phenomena in the development economics literature-the Lewis turning point and the Kuznets turning point. The plateauing is not yet a full blown decline, and there are short term variations. But the narrative on Chinese inequality now needs to accommodate the possibility of a turnaround in inequality, and to focus on the reasons for this turnaround.

publication date

  • 2021
  • 2020