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Inequality and Equality under Chinese Socialism: The Hukou System and Intergenerational Occupational Mobility1

Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyUniversity of California, Los Angeles

Data from a 1996 national probability sample of Chinese men is used to analyze the effect of family background on occupational mobility in contemporary China, with particular attention to the rural‐urban institutional divide. China has an unusually high degree of mobility into agriculture and also, apparently, unusual “openness” in the current urban population. Both patterns are explained by China’s distinctive population registration system, which simultaneously fails to protect rural‐origin men from downward mobility and permits only the best educated to attain urban registration status, resulting in severe sample selection bias in previous studies restricted to the urban population. New light is shed on the relationships between the socialist state and social fluidity and between inequality and mobility.