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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Rise of Rural-to-Rural Labor Markets in China

  • Author(s): Lohmar, Bryan
  • Rozelle, Scott D.
  • Zhao, Changbao
  • et al.

The continued transfer of agricultural labor into the industrial sector is crucial to China's transformation into an industrial economy. We argue in this paper that rural industry offers an alternative to urban industry for receiving agricultural labor from areas without off-farm employment opportunities. Characteristics of rural industry differ from their urban counterparts. These characteristics may serve to shape the growth in employment for incoming workers in rural areas, provide opportunities for certain types of workers, and affect the impacts these workers have on the local economy.

In this paper we examine the features of China's rural-to-rural labor movement and the villages where these workers are employed. Using a nationally representative sample of 215 villages, we show that the growth in rural-to-rural labor movement between 1988 and 1995 has been much faster than in rural-to-urban movement or in local off-farm employment. The rapid growth in rural-to-rural commuting and migration has not negatively affected off-farm income earning opportunities for workers living in the receiving villages. Rural-to-rural labor movement also has many positive effects. Labor movement into rural villages provides opportunities for workers generally underrepresented in other parts of the off-farm labor market, appears to dampen upward pressure on wages that allows rural industry to maintain labor intensive practices, and promotes national economic integration.

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