With expanded fiscal capacity and rising concerns over economic inequality, the Chinese government in the last decade and a half has vastly rebuilt and expanded its social welfare regime. Using the National Transfer Accounts (NTA) methodology and both micro-level survey data and macro-level government statistics, this study examines the distribution of public transfers in education, health care and pension across generations and income groups in 2014 and compare it with those in 2010. While per capita public transfers in absolute terms remained in favor of higher-income groups and the elderly in 2014, as in 2010, the gap in receiving public transfers between the rich and the poor was reduced notably in this short time period. Public transfers also became more progressive in relative terms, with the bottom income group receiving much higher public transfers relative to their per capita household income than the wealthier groups. These results reveal that although the unequal distribution of public transfers continues and it in part results from the fragmented program design and the legacies of socialist inequalities, China’s expanded social welfare programs have contributed to narrowing the vast income inequality in this country.
As a leading expert on demography, aging, and inequality, Wang Feng is a Professor of Sociology at University of California, Irvine and Professor (invited) at Fudan University, Shanghai. He was a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy (2013-2016), Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution (2010-2013), Professor at Tsinghua University (2011-2013) and Invited Visiting Professor at Keio University, Japan. Dr. Wang’s research focuses on social inequality in post-socialist societies, global demographic change and consequences and migration and social reintegration in China. Dr. Wang is the author of multiple award-winning books and is a contributor to leading global media outlets. Dr. Wang’s work has been supported by various funding sources such as Pacific Rim Research Program, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies.
This lecture is part of the 2020-2021 annual lecture series on "Chinese Social Policy from Comparative Perspectives" co-sponsored by the Columbia China Center for Social Policy and Weatherhead East Asian Institute and supported by the Columbia School of Social Work.