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Effects of human capital, family background and social network on occupational mobility in contemporary urban China



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The Chinese market transition has provided new opportunities for individuals to improve social status. In contemporary urban China, do people have equal access to opportunities to obtain occupational status? Following theories of human capital, social network and market transition, this study uses a dataset of the 2003 China General Social Survey and interviews, to explore different effects of human capital, family background and social network on occupational mobility from a perspective of work sector change. The first major finding is that the returns for education were highest for those whose first and second occupations were in the state sector. Work experience and party membership were significant only for workers remaining in the state sector and human capital was often considered equal to work ability. In the private sector, occupational status depended on recognition of the ability to work. Secondly, family background was meaningful for workers transferring within both sectors. In the state sector, the effects were mainly through the use of fathers’ political power to make occupational promotion whereas in the private sector, it came down to economic support or information transmission. Thirdly, social network was significant in the form of strong ties if workers stayed in the state sector or transferred there from the private sector. It mainly took the form of job information for those staying in or transferring to the private sector. And last, education significantly affected income for all groups but with the highest returns for stayers. I conclude that for one thing, human capital, family background and social network exert markedly different effects on occupational mobility in four subgroups in contemporary urban China. The use of political power is the main influence of family background and social network, especially for those transferring to the state sector. The institutionalization of occupational promotion based on political power may result in unequal opportunity for job and status mobility and consequently the stagnation of economic and social development. In order to establish a fair labour market, five policy proposals are made related to promotion of a market-oriented economy, disclosure of information in the labour market, law regulation, reform of distribution of socioeconomic benefits, and political system reform.



Occupational mobility, Human capital, Family background, Social network, Market transition, China



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)







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