Market transition, industrialization, and social mobility trends in postrevolution China

Xiang Zhou, Yu Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


This study examines trends in intergenerational class mobility in China by analyzing six comparable, nationally representative surveys between 1996 and 2012. Defying a simplistic, unidirectional account, the authors report two countervailing trends in social mobility in postrevolution China. On the one hand, the authors find a decline in social fluidity following China’s transition from state socialism to a market economy, as the link between origin and destination in vertical social status has significantly strengthened. On the other hand, horizontal mobility between the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors has increased substantially during recent decades. To put these trends in a global context, the authors compare China’s experience with those in 11 advanced industrial countries. The authors find that despite its recent decline, social fluidity in China is still high by international standards. Yet, the direction of vertical social mobility trends in China stands in contrast with that in mature capitalist countries, in which the class structure has either stayed stable or become more open over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1810-1847
Number of pages38
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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