China has reached the Lewis Turning Point.May 2010

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China has reached the Lewis Turning Point.May 2010. International Food Policy Research Insitute

Text of China has reached the Lewis Turning Point.May 2010

  • 1. IFPRI Discussion Paper 000977 May 2010China Has Reached the Lewis Turning Point Xiaobo ZhangJin Yang Shenglin Wang Development Strategy and Governance Division

2. INTERNATIONAL FOOD POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTEThe International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) was established in 1975. IFPRI is one of 15agricultural research centers that receive principal funding from governments, private foundations, andinternational and regional organizations, most of which are members of the Consultative Group onInternational Agricultural Research (CGIAR).PARTNERS AND CONTRIBUTORSIFPRI gratefully acknowledges the generous unrestricted funding from Australia, Canada, China,Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, thePhilippines, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the WorldBank.AUTHORSXiaobo Zhang, International Food Policy Research InstituteSenior Research Fellow, Development Strategy and Governance DivisionX.Zhang@cgiar.orgJin Yang, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, ChinaResearch Assistant, International Center for Agriclutural and Rural DevelopmentShenglin Wang, Gansu Agricultural University, ChinaProfessor, College of Economics and ManagementNotices1Effective January 2007, the Discussion Paper series within each division and the Director Generals Office of IFPRIwere merged into one IFPRIwide Discussion Paper series. The new series begins with number 00689, reflecting theprior publication of 688 discussion papers within the dispersed series. The earlier series are available on IFPRIswebsite at Discussion Papers contain preliminary material and research results. They have not been subject to formalexternal reviews managed by IFPRIs Publications Review Committee but have been reviewed by at least oneinternal and/or external reviewer. They are circulated in order to stimulate discussion and critical comment.Copyright 2010 International Food Policy Research Institute. All rights reserved. Sections of this material may be reproduced forpersonal and not-for-profit use without the express written permission of but with acknowledgment to IFPRI. To reproduce thematerial contained herein for profit or commercial use requires express written permission. To obtain permission, contact theCommunications Division at 3. ContentsAbstractvAcknowledgementvi1. Introduction 12. Conceptual Framework and Literature Review 23. Description of Data44. Empirical Analysis135. Conclusions 21References 22 iii 4. List of Tables1. Summary statistics of laborers working outside their counties 52. Wage rate during harvest season 63. Real wage rate during slack season64. Daily wages for men 85. Daily wages for women 96. Summary statistics of control variables at the village level used in regressions 147. Regressions on daily wage in harvest season178. Regressions of daily wage in slack season18List of Figures1. Conceptual model of the Lewis turning point 22. Male wages by region93. Female wages by region 104. Share of migratory male workers by age cohort115. Share of migratory female workers by age cohort126. The coefficients for the year dummies in regressions on wages in harvest and slack seasons 20iv 5. ABSTRACTIn the past several years, labor shortages in China have become an issue. However, there is heated debateas to whether China has passed the Lewis turning point and moved from a period of unlimited supply to anew era of labor shortage. Most empirical studies on this topic focus on estimation of total labor supplyand demand. Yet the poor quality of Chinas labor statistics leaves the debate open. In this paper, Chinasposition along the Lewis continuum is examined though primary surveys of wage rates, which offer amore reliable statistic than employment data. Our results show a clear rising trend in real wage rates since2003. The acceleration of real wages even in slack seasons indicates that the era of surplus labor is over.This finding has important policy implications for Chinas future development.Keywords: dual economy, surplus labor, Lewis model, labor market v 6. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTFunding supports from the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Natural Science Foundationof China (Approval number 70828002) and Ministry of Education of China (Approval number08JJD840206) are gratefully acknowledged. vi 7. 1. INTRODUCTIONAs a society moves from an agricultural to an industrial economy, the balance of labor demand and supplyshifts as well. In the initial stage of development, most people remain in rural areas, engaged inagricultural production. When this concentration of workers leads to underemployment in rural areas, theindustrial sector can expand and increase its labor force with no pressure to raise wages. Thus there mayfollow a period of industrial growth with no rise in real wages. However, as the industrial sector developsto the point where the supply of labor from the agricultural sector becomes limited, industrial wages beginto rise quickly. Based on the historical experience of developed countries, Lewis (1954) firstconceptualized this process of economic transformation. In the literature, the structural change from anexcess supply of labor to one of labor shortage is often called the Lewis turning point. 1Although this term is referred to extensively, in reality it is very difficult to pinpoint the exactmoment of change. The current debate on whether China has arrived at the Lewis turning point highlightsthis difficulty. Since the 1978 economic reform, Chinain just three decadeshas experienced a rapidand pronounced economic transformation from a planned to a market economy and from one based onagriculture to one emphasizing industry. The success of the rural reform in the late 1970s and early 1980sgreatly improved agricultural productivity and released a tremendous amount of surplus labor from theland (Du 2006). As a result, a large number of laborers moved from the agricultural to the industrial andservice sectors. For more than two decades since the economic reform, the supply of labor seemed to beunlimited, enabling Chinas manufacturing sector to maintain a comparative advantage in labor-intensiveproducts. Fueled by cheap labor, many of Chinas manufactured goods became so competitive in theinternational market that China earned the name the worlds factory.However, since 2005, the labor shortage phenomenon has begun to turn up in coastal cities,sparking intensive media reports in 2006 and 2007. 2 The subsequent global financial and food crises in2008 and 2009 reduced demand for Chinese products, resulting in the bankruptcies of some export-oriented enterprises. These external shocks seemed to mute the acuteness of the labor shortage, at leasttemporarily. Recently, however, as China emerged largely unscathed from the crises, the demand for laborhas once again intensified, leading to renewed expressions of concern.3As the worlds largest exporter of manufactured goods, China to a great extent determines worldprices. However, if Chinese labor shortages continue and grow, labor costs in the manufacturing sectorwill rise, as will, eventually, the prices of Chinas products. Such higher prices would have an impact notonly on global markets and trade but also on the welfare of a vast number of consumers worldwide.Domestically, structural changes due to labor shortages would affect the well-being of theagricultural, industrial, and service sectors. As labor became more costly, agricultural production wouldprobably come to depend more heavily on machinery as opposed to human labor. Similarly, the currentlycompetitive, labor-intensive manufacturing sector would have to upgrade into a more capital-dependentand skill-intensive mode of production. These structural changes would then place a higher premium onthe education of skilled laborers.The new paradigm of labor shortage, if confirmed, will have important implications for incomedistribution. The labor shortage will give workers more bargaining power, resulting in a more rapid rise inwages. Higher wages will likely narrow the enormous ruralurban income gap of the past. Part of thisrising income will eventually translate into higher domestic consumption, thus helping to reduce theglobal imbalance.In summary, it is both urgent and crucial to determineon the basis of solid empirical evidencewhether the Chinese economy has reached the Lewis turning point. At present there is heated debate 1This idea was further formalized by Ranis and Fei (1961). See Fields (2004) for a recent review of the Lewis turning point. 2For example, China Sees Beginning of a Labor Shortage, New York Times, April 4, 2005. example, Defying Global Slump, China Has Labor Shortage, New York Times, February 26, 2010. 8. regarding this issue. Most empirical studies focus on the estimation of total labor supply and demand; butthe poor quality of Chinas labor statistics leaves the debate open. In the present paper, Chinas positionalong the Lewis continuum is examined through primary surveys of wage rates, which provide morereliable statistics than employment data. Our results show a clear rising trend in real wages since 2003.And the acceleration of this rising trend, even in slack seasons, indicates that the era of surplus labor isover. This finding has important policy implications both for the general global economy as well as forChinas future development. This paper is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a conceptual framework for testing theLewis turning point and a review of the related literature. Section 3 describes the wage patterns in sixprovinces based on two primary surveys. Section 4 presents a multivariate regression analysis to furthertest t