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The evolution of China's rural labor market in the 21st century: an empirical study based on nationally representative survey data at the household level

Tonglong Zhang (National School of Agricultural Institution and Development (NSAID), South China Agricultural University , Guangzhou, China)
Xiaowen Huang (National School of Agricultural Institution and Development (NSAID), South China Agricultural University , Guangzhou, China)
Lina Zhang (National School of Agricultural Institution and Development (NSAID), South China Agricultural University (SCAU) , Guangzhou, China)
Linxiu Zhang (International Ecosystem Management Partnership, United Nations Environment Programme , Beijing, China)

China Agricultural Economic Review

ISSN: 1756-137X

Article publication date: 30 October 2020

Issue publication date: 1 June 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to assess the development of China's rural labor markets and the identification of the important factors that affect rural labor's off-farm employment and migration.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on a set of long-term panel data, this paper makes a clear judgment on the trend of rural labor transfer. High-quality survey design makes it possible to examine the development of the rural labor market from multiple dimensions. Adding household fixed effects to the empirical model alleviates endogenous problems.

Findings

The authors find that the increasing trend toward off-farm employment, which is dominated by migration, has continued. There are some other important findings: (1). young male workers dominated off-farm employment, but the gap between groups continues to narrow; (2). the structure of employment is a good response to the economic transformation and (3). the quality of off-farm laborers, especially in terms of human capital, has also enhanced significantly and has continued to support off-farm employment and migration. These findings all indicate that the China's rural labor markets have been constantly improving in recent years, although there is still segmentation.

Originality/value

It is the first paper that uses a nationally representative survey data to address the development of rural labor market in the 21st century. With the help of a long-term panel data structure and by controlling the household-level fixed-effect, the authors obtained a deeper and more robust conclusion. Specifically, this article finds that whether it is for the off-farm transfer or the migration, the influence of labor age, gender, human capital and marital status is gradually weakening.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the National Social Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 17BJL009).

Citation

Zhang, T., Huang, X., Zhang, L. and Zhang, L. (2021), "The evolution of China's rural labor market in the 21st century: an empirical study based on nationally representative survey data at the household level", China Agricultural Economic Review, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 349-366. https://doi.org/10.1108/CAER-06-2020-0134

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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