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Globalization, Changing Demographics, and Educational Challenges in East Asia Research in Sociology of Education, Volume 17, 123–152 Copyright r 2010 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 1479-3539/doi:10.1108/S1479-3539(2010)0000017007

Xiaogang Wu and Zhuoni Zhang
This chapter examines the trend in school enrollment and transitions to senior high school and to college in China for selected young cohorts since the 1990s, based on the analyses of the sample data from population censuses in 1990 and 2000 and the mini-census in 2005. We pay particular attention to educational inequality based on gender and the household registration system (hukou) in the context of educational expansion. Results show a substantial increase in educational opportunities over time at all levels. In particular, women have gained relatively more; gender inequality has decreased over time, and the gap in college enrollments was even reversed to favor women in 2005. However, rural–urban inequality was enlarged in the 1990s. The educational expansion has mainly benefited females and urban residents.




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Scholars have long recognized the central role for the nation-state in shaping the provision of educational opportunities and determining the structure of the educational system. Although the impact of the state on education is relatively weak in most developing countries that have limited economic and organizational resources (Buchmann & Hannum, 2001), major shifts in educational policies in China have dramatically altered individuals’ life chances in the Maoist era since the 1950s (Deng & Treiman, 1997; Zhou, Moen, & Tuma, 1998). The economic reform and open-up to the outside world since 1978 has gradually relaxed the state control of the economy and led to the emergence of labor markets. In the course of rapid economic development and market reform, returns to human capital (education) increased, particularly in the private sector (Nee, 1989, 1996). For instance, the earnings return to education in 1988 was approximately 3 percent, and it jumped to approximately 10 percent in 2003 (Liu, 2006). Education has become an increasingly important factor in determining individuals’ socioeconomic attainment and enhancing the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy. Accompanied with the rapid economic development is the question of how to restructure the educational system and provide more access to educational opportunities, as sustainable economic growth demands skilled labor (Hannum, Park, & Cheng, 2007; Murphy, 2004). Indeed, the commencement of the reform era was marked by the complete dismantling of the educational policies adopted during the Cultural Revolution, which severely condemned the system of evaluating student performance by examinations (Tsui, 1997; Wang, 2002). On the contrary, economic growth afforded more resources for educational development and school expansion. In 1980, the Chinese government set the target of universalizing primary education by the end of the 1980s and the implementation of nine-year compulsory education in the 1990s (Tsui, 1997). In 1985, the Decision on the Reform of the Education Structure was launched, followed by the 1986 Compulsory Education Law. With the increase in educational resources, these goals were largely achieved by the mid-1990s. As Table 1 shows, the school enrollment rate (age 6–15) had already reached over 98 percent by the mid-1990s. The rate of transition to junior high school, given the completion of primary school education, after an initial decline in the mid-1980s, also reached over 90 percent in 1995 and 98.4 percent in 2005. In contrast, the expansion of senior high school education beyond the compulsory levels was quite slow until recently, and

Changes in Educational Inequality in China, 1990–2005

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1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Year

Table 1.
Enrollment Rate (%)

Educational Expansion in China, 1978–2005.
Transition to Junior High School (%) Transition to Senior High (Academic and Vocational) School (%) 40.9 40.0 45.9 31.5 32.3 35.5 38.4 41.7 40.6 39.1 38.0 38.3 40.6 42.6 43.4 44.1 46.4 48.3 48.8 44.3 50.7 50.0 51.1 52.9 58.3 60.2 62.9 69.7 Transition to College (%)

95.5 93.0 93.9 93.0 93.2 94.0 95.3 96.0 96.4 97.2 97.2 97.4 97.8 97.8 97.2 97.7 98.4 98.5 98.8 98.9 98.9 99.1 99.1 98.3 98.6 98.7 98.9 99.2

87.7 82.8 75.9 68.3 66.2 67.3 66.2 68.4 69.5 69.1 70.4 71.5 74.6 75.7 79.7 81.8 86.6 90.8 92.6 93.7 94.3 94.4 94.9 95.5 97.0 97.9 98.1 98.4

5.89 3.84 4.56 5.74 10.1 16.6 25.0 31.5 25.5 25.0 26.7 24.5 27.3 28.7 34.9 43.3 46.7 49.9 51.0 48.6 46.1 63.8 73.2 78.8 83.5 83.4 82.5 76.3

Sources: Comprehensive statistical data and materials on 50 years of New China, Beijing: China Statistics Publishing House. The data from 1998 onward are from cn/tjsj/ndsj/

the expansion was not at a pace comparable to that of higher education (Liu, 2004; Min, 2007). As plotted in Fig. 1, the expansion of education did not follow a typical sequence from primary, secondary and then to tertiary levels. The Chinese government decided to expand higher education in 1999 before senior high school education grew substantially. As shown in Table 1, in 1999, only about half of junior high school graduates could continue on senior high



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7 9 11 13 15 17 19




0 1980 1985 1990 Year

enrollment rate transition to junior hs transition to senior high school transition to college 1995 2000 2005

Fig. 1.

Educational Expansion and School Transition in China, 1978–2005 (Table 1).

21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35 37 39 school (including both academic and vocational tracks), whereas 63.8 percent of senior high school graduates could enter college, jumping from 46.1 percent in 1998. In 2002, 58.3 percent of junior high school graduates could proceed to senior high school, whereas 83.5 percent of senior high school graduates could attend college. This atypical way of expansion may have important implications for educational inequality in the course of China’s educational expansion since the late 1990s. Although issues related to education inequalities have been widely discussed by the media and concerned the public in recent years, most existing studies are focused on basic education in the early reform period or in rural areas (Tsui, 1997; Hannum, 1999; Adams & Hannum, 2005; Wu, 2007). Literature on educational attainment based on cohort analysis of retrospective survey data, on the contrary, could barely capture a young generation who have been most affected by recent policy changes in the 1990s (Deng & Treiman, 1997; Liu, 2004; Wu, 2007; Zhou et al., 1998). As far as we know, no national survey data are available on the young cohorts who completed their primary and secondary education in the period when China proceeded deeply into marketization and educational reform.

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Analysis of those who completed tertiary education was even more limited due to the small sample size. The aggregated tables from the Ministry of Education (e.g., Table 1) would not allow the detailed analyses of inequality in access to educational opportunities among different social groups. In this chapter, we analyze a sample of micro-data from Chinese population censuses and mini-census to document the trends of educational attainment and school transition in China’s late reform period. We focus on changing inequality in education beyond the compulsory levels, that is, in senior high school and college education, along the gender and rural–urban lines that characterize the socio-economic disparities in China.1 In the following, we first review the existing studies of gender and regional/rural–urban educational inequality in China; we then document the historical trend in educational attainment in China from 1990 to 2005. Finally, based on the multivariate analysis, we show the changing inequality in transition to senior high school and college and discuss the implications for our empirical findings.

In the second half of the 20th century, China has been undergoing dramatic economic and social changes. Shortly after the communist party took the power in 1949, the Chinese government initiated ambitious industrialization programs in the early 1950s. Numerous studies in sociology, demography, and economics have examined the trend in educational inequality in China since the 1950s up to the early reform period, in a framework of both economic development and socialist state intervention, with special attention to gender and regional inequality. Under the influence of the Confucian patriarchal culture, Chinese families typically favor boys over girls in allocating educational resources and opportunities for a long history (Bauer, Wang, Riley, & Zhao, 1992). Rural–urban disparities in education have also long existed in China as in other developing countries (Buchmann & Hannum, 2001). According to modernization theory, educational inequalities are expected to decline with industrialization and economic growth, because economic development demands for more skilled labor and leads to both educational expansion and labor migration from rural to urban areas, from which those from disadvantaged groups (e.g., women and people from rural background) are likely to benefit (Boudon, 1974; Treiman, 1970).



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Such trends to a large extent have been altered by the shifts of government educational policies in socialist China. Although the socialist state in general promotes gender equality (Zhou et al., 1998), Chinese women’s relative educational position varied by the extent to which government policy shifts between egalitarianism and economic growth (Hannum & Xie, 1994). Moreover, under the state-led industrialization program, the government designated a distinctive pattern of spatial hierarchy in resource allocation, with large cities in the top and villages in the bottom (Knight & Song, 1996; Zhou et al., 1998). In particular, the rural–urban disparities in educational attainment, institutionalized by the hukou system, have also been subject to political changes and vacillations in educational policies, which attempt to strike a balance between social and economic goals (Hannum, 1999). This policy dilemma common to developing nations continued to haunt the educational agenda in the post-Mao era. In the past three decades, China’s success in liberalizing its planned economy and experiencing a high rate of economic growth has not only created a large demand for more talented personnel but also helped spread the ideology of liberalism with economic efficiency dominating the discussions of educational reform. For instance, the higher education expansion in the later 1990s was mainly driven by economic considerations when the Chinese government attempted to find an effective means to boost domestic consumption after the Asian financial crisis.2 As the Chinese public interest in education has always been high, with the generation under one-child policy (those born after 1979) about to enter college, families would be even more willing and able to pay for their only child’s education than before (Murphy, 2004). Indeed, as education becomes increasingly globalized, more Chinese families now send their children oversea for education to avoid the high pressure on college admission exams.3 The enrollment expansion would not only meet the public demand for higher education interests but also postpone the employment of high school graduates and alleviate the employment pressure on the labor market (Li, 2003). Nevertheless, equity issues arise when the allocation of educational opportunities is increasingly tied to family economic resources, especially in the context of sharp increase in income inequality in China since the 1990s. Chinese have long believed the role of education in creating a meritocratic society, where the talented is allowed to thrive irrespective of social origins. Although many scholars believe that rising inequality would not be a serious concern as long as those who lag behind were provided opportunities for mobility (e.g., Li, 2002; Zhang, 2008), access to educational opportunities may be even more unequally distributed among different social groups.

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Trends in Gender and Regional Inequality in Basic Education Most existing studies on gender and regional differentials in school enrollment and transition are limited on basic education in China up to the early reform period. Despite the government policy promoting gender egalitarianism, educational gap between men and women still persisted since the Mao’s era and even was enlarged to some extent in the early reform period (Hannum & Xie, 1994; Hannum, 2005). The trend was mainly driven by the changing difference in school enrollment between boys and girls, which are more responsive to household economic circumstances, especially in rural areas. Hannum’s analysis (2005) demonstrated an interaction effect between rural poverty and gender inequality in school enrollments in the 1980s. In urban areas, on the contrary, gender gap in enrollment in primary and secondary school decreased over time, with primary school education almost universalized in the early 1980s (Bauer et al., 1992; Connelly & Zheng, 2007a; Lavely, Xiao, Li, & Freedman, 1990). In this light, the further implementation of nine-year compulsory education in (rural) China in the 1990s would reduce both gender gap and rural–urban gap in enrollment, and benefit rural girls in particular. Although the rural–urban inequality in education exists in many developing countries (Buchmann & Hannum, 2001), it has been institutionalized by the household registration (hukou) system that has created a fundamental social divide in contemporary China since 1955. Hukou status is assigned at birth on the basis of the mother’s registration status (Chan & Zhang, 1999). Those whose mothers have urban status automatically acquire urban status themselves, whereas those whose mothers have rural status must compete for urban status, in which higher education is the most important criterion for selection (Wu & Treiman, 2004). Therefore, registration (hukou) status need not be identical to residential locale. People with rural hukou status could and can live in cities, as have increasingly large numbers of rural migrants beginning in the early 1980s. Table 2 presents the percentage distribution of national population by residence type and hukou status in China from 1982 to 2005. In 1982, when the economic reform just started, over 92 percent ( ¼ 74.8/81.0) of rural hukou holders resided in rural areas, whereas approximately 77 percent ( ¼ 14.6/19.0) of urban hukou holders indeed resided in cities. As of 2005, the hukou system has lost much of its effectiveness in restricting rural–urban migrations: only 71 percent ( ¼ 52.5/73.9) of rural hukou holders still lived in villages, whereas the rest 29 percent ( ¼ 21.4/73.9) resided in urban areas and were often referred as ‘‘rural migrants’’ or ‘‘floating population.’’



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1982 Rural Urban Total 1990 Rural Urban Total 2000 Rural Urban Total 2005 Rural Urban Total

Table 2.
Residence (De Facto)

Rural–Urban Residence and Hukou Status in China, 1982–2005.
Hukou Status (De Jure) (%) Rural Urban Total

74.8 6.2 81.0 64.1 15.5 79.5 60.2 15.0 75.2 52.5 21.4 73.9

4.4 14.6 19.0 2.5 18.3 20.5 3.0 21.9 24.8 1.9 24.2 26.1

79.2 20.8 100.0 66.2 33.7 100.0 63.2 36.8 100.0 54.4 45.6 100.0

Sources: Micro-data of China Population Censuses 1982, 1990, 2000 and Mini-census 2005.

On the contrary, approximately 93 percent ( ¼ 24.2/26.1) of urban hukou holders lived in cities and towns in 2005, although the percentage they account for the de facto urban population has declined from 70 percent ( ¼ 14.6/20.8) in 1982 to 53 percent ( ¼ 24.2/45.6) in 2005 because of increasing rural migration into urban areas (Liang & Ma, 2004). Despite the great ease in spatial migration, the hukou change from rural to urban status remains restrictive and selective. As Table 2 shows, although the de facto urban population has increased from 20.8 percent in 1982 to 45.6 percent in 2005, the de jure urban population (with urban hukou) increased only slightly, from 19.0 percent in 1982 to 26.1 percent in 2005. The hukou continues to be used as the main criterion for social exclusion of rural de jure residents.4 Recent studies have documented the discriminations faced by rural migrants in cities without local urban hukou (Solinger, 1999), rural migrant children’s limited access to educational opportunities (Liang & Chen, 2007), and the impact of hukou on income inequality (Liu, 2005), educational attainment (Wu & Treiman, 2004), and occupational mobility (Wu & Treiman, 2007).

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Certainly, regional differentials in social economic development and resources spending on education cannot be entirely captured by rural–urban disparities. Casual observation suggests that inter-provincial and intraprovincial gaps in educational attainment and school enrollment are large, especially for rural areas (Tsui, 1997; Wu & Ma, 2004). Although there is no doubt that the central government intended to promote educational opportunities for all its citizens, the fiscal reform in education in the early 1990s exacerbated the situation. In the context of the decentralization of public finances in China since the early 1980s, the responsibility of funding primary and secondary education was shifted to local governments who had a strong incentive to invest in projects that could quickly reap profits and generate tax revenues, resulting in a low priority for investment in education (Adams & Hannum, 2005; Li, Park, & Wang, 2007; Tsang, 1996; Tsang & Ding, 2005). The uneven regional economic development further differentiated local governments’ capacity in funding education. In many poor and rural areas, local governments could hardly raise sufficient revenue to cover teachers’ salaries, not to mention other non-instructive costs. In contrast, local governments in developed areas could mobilize significantly more resources, both government and non-government, for education (Tsang & Ding, 2005). This has resulted in the substantial disparities in perstudent educational expenditure across regions5 and a huge variation in school attendance rate, even as of 2000. For example, among 2,870 counties and urban districts, the enrollment rate ranges from 69.5 percent (Nimu county of Tibet) to 100 percent among those children aged between 6 and 15 years old (the national average is 94.6 percent) (also see Connelly & Zheng, 2007b).6 The educational expansion, led by the Chinese Government’s effort to implement the universal nine-year compulsory education, together with the exacerbating income inequality since the 1990s, has revived scholars’ interests in how these changes affect educational inequality in China. On the basis of the analysis of the population census data in 1990 and 2000, Connelly and Zheng (2007b) show that place of residence (rural vs. urban) continues to be among the most important factors explaining school enrollment and graduation patterns, but the gap has narrowed over the 10-year period. The gender gap between rural boys and rural girls has also been substantially reduced during the same period. On the basis of the same data source, Wu (2007) matched school-age children to their parents and examined the effects of family background on their school enrollment and continuation in the 1990s. Results show that children of rural hukou status and disadvantaged socioeconomic background gained relatively more



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opportunities at junior high school level, as a result of the substantial expansion of basic education in the decade.

Changes in Access to Senior High School Education and Beyond in the 1990s Beyond the compulsory education level, evidence suggests that inequality has increased, nevertheless. The educational expansion in China took place in an unusual way in the 1990s. The government decided to expand higher education substantially, with tuition charges, before allowing sufficient growth of senior high school. As shown in Table 3, the number of tertiary institutions increased by 67 percent [ ¼ (1792À1075)/1075] within the 15 years period from 1990 to 2005; more dramatic growth are the number of students enrolled, jumping from approximately 2 million to more than 15 million, albeit with large regional variations. On the contrary, more universal access to basic education has created a bottleneck for continuing on senior high school. Thus, the competition and selection are more severe in transition to senior high school than in transition to colleges. Who have benefited from the expansion of tertiary education is contingent upon who would be able to continue on and complete senior high school education. Inequalities in access to senior high school and beyond are thus crucial to understanding changing educational and social stratification in contemporary China. In the 1990s when China proceeded deeply into marketization, to accommodate the increasing number of enrollments and increasing educational costs, high schools, and colleges have been allowed to charge tuitions and other fees (Min, 2007). Educational affordability has also become one of the greatest public concerns. Economic considerations significantly affect the decision to continue schooling (Kahn & Yardley, 2004). Connelly and Zheng’s analysis (2007b) suggests a growing ruralÀurban gap in attending senior high school, due to the improvement in urban areas outpacing those in rural areas. Wu’s (2007) multivariate analysis confirms that the ruralÀurban (hukou) gap in the likelihood of transition to senior high school level enlarged, and the effect of their father’s socioeconomic status increased – even after taking into account of regional variations in economic development. There are some anecdotal reports on the decline in the number of student enrollments from disadvantaged family backgrounds at several elite universities (Liu, 2004; Min, 2007; Yang, 2006). Children of managers

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Table 3. Regional Distribution of Tertiary Institutions and Enrollment in China, 1990–2005.
Tertiary Schools (Units) 1990 National Beijing Tianjin Hebei Shanxi Inner Mongolia Liaoning Jilin Heilongjiang Shanghai Jiangsu Zhejiang Anhui Fujian Jiangxi Shandong Henan Hubei Hunan Guangdong Guangxi Hainan Chongqing Sichuan Guizhou Yunnan Xizang Shaanxi Gansu Qinghai Ningxia Xinjiang 1,075 67 22 50 26 19 62 42 42 50 70 37 37 36 30 49 47 58 47 45 23 4 – 60 24 26 3 47 18 7 6 21 2000 1,041 58 21 51 24 18 64 34 35 37 69 35 42 28 32 47 52 54 52 52 30 5 22 42 23 24 4 39 18 7 6 16 2005 1,792 77 41 86 59 33 76 44 62 58 114 68 81 53 67 99 83 85 93 102 51 15 35 68 34 44 4 72 33 11 13 30 Total Enrollment (Persons) 1990 2,062,695 139,914 51,039 76,018 51,309 32,175 123,314 72,806 79,908 121,251 146,894 60,327 32,448 55,624 56,608 105,822 80,372 130,355 88,210 95,929 37,762 7,652 – 141,007 26,970 43,525 2,025 95,417 32,805 6,202 7,992 31,015 2000 5,560,900 280,282 119,117 252,571 125,023 71,868 307,931 181,019 210,146 226,798 451,844 192,371 191,824 137,859 148,589 325,317 273,404 357,728 265,849 306,019 123,729 19,193 126,279 245,648 79,833 95,893 5,475 244,723 82,577 13,485 17,463 81,043 2005 15,617,767 548,270 331,553 774,006 407,036 230,902 659,351 407,262 540,867 442,620 1,159,795 651,307 589,075 406,996 646,086 1,171,284 851,864 1,012,665 754,859 874,686 338,261 69,984 333,563 775,436 206,754 254,687 18,979 666,943 229,459 32,753 48,650 181,814

Sources: China Statistical Yearbook 1991, 2001, 2006.

and professionals are more likely than their counterparts from other backgrounds to get into college now than before (Li, 2006a, 2006b). Despite the heated discussions on the inequality in access to senior high schools and colleges among scholars, policy makers, and the public, few

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quantitative analyses have been conducted to systematically document the trends of stratification, especially in higher education. This is mainly due to the lack of large-scale data. In this chapter, we analyze the sample data from Chinese population censuses in 1990 and 2000 and the mini-census in 2005 to partly address the issues.7 We pay particular attention to gender and hukou status in determining access to educational opportunities in China since 1990.

11 Data 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35 37 39 The decennial census is a unique tool studying social changes, because it provides a rich set of data for the detailed analysis of social and demographic groups. For the most part, the census employs a constant set of measures for each decade, thereby avoiding the problem of confusing changes in the population in the way that the population is measured (Mare, 1995). The 1990 Chinese census data includes two variables on education: educational level and enrollment status, which can be combined, together with age/cohort information, to define whether a person of a certain age group is enrolled in school or not. Although the questions on education in the 2000 census and 2005 mini-census are slightly modified, the variables are basically comparable to those in 1990.8 The unusually large sample size would afford us detailed analysis by certain subgroups. Most part of the following analyses is restricted to those aged between 13 and 22 in respective years, roughly equivalent to those at school from junior high school to college. Because there is no information about the particular grade/level that a student is attending, we approximate age 13–15, age 16–18, and age 19–22 the typical ages when respondents attend junior high school, senior high school, and college, respectively. We also approximate the school enrollment and transition rate at specific levels by referring to respondents’ age. For the transition to junior high school, it is defined as those aged between 13 and 15 still enrolled in school divided by those of the same age group who have completed primary school education (i.e., those in junior high school and those who completed primary school but were not enrolled in school). Similarly, for the transition to senior high school (i.e., continuing school after compulsory education), it is defined as those aged between 16 and 18 still enrolled in senior high school (including vocational high school) divided by those of the same age group

Changes in Educational Inequality in China, 1990–2005


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who have completed junior high school education, namely, those who are currently in senior high school plus those who have completed junior high school but are currently not in school. For the transition to college, it is defined as those aged between 19 and 22 still enrolled in college divided by those of the same age group who have completed senior high school education or equivalent.

Variables The dependent variables are the enrollment status (age 13–22) and school transition of the young cohorts at certain ages, which is coded as a dummy variable (yes ¼ 1). We focus on enrollment in senior high school and college and on the transitions from junior high school to senior high school and from senior high school to college. From 1990 to 2005, the Chinese school system remained largely the same. The main independent variables in the following analysis include gender and current hukou status. Gender is coded as a dummy variable (female ¼ 1) and so is current hukou status (rural ¼ 1). Current residential locale needs not be identical to hukou status, and it may have independent effect, as shown in Table 2. We code residence into a dummy variable as well (rural ¼ 1) and include it as the control variable in the multivariate analysis. Although family background, measured by father’s occupation, education, and mother’s education, is of great interests, the census data do not allow the matching of children to their parents for those who attend senior high school and beyond, because most college students would have moved out of their parents’ homes to live in school dormitories where their universities are located. Because admission to college involves both change of hukou status, we believe that it is not appropriate to use current hukou status as the independent variable. In both 1990 and 2000 censuses, however, respondents were asked their residence locale five years ago if they have migrated, based on which we can approximate residence before they were admitted into colleges (when they were at 15–17 years old at high school); if the respondents have never moved, we replace their original residence with their current residence. Since the 2005 mini-census data do not contain information on respondents’ original residence, we use their current residence locale where their hukou was registered. The hukou regulations for college students are more flexible in 2005 than before; students can choose whether they want to transfer hukou to the place where their schools are located.



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We name the variable as ‘‘residence origin,’’ which is coded to a dummy variable (rural ¼ 1). To capture regional variations in socioeconomic development and educational stratification (Wu & Ma, 2004), all 31 province-level jurisdictions in China conventionally have been grouped into three regions based on their levels of economic development: 1 ¼ East, 2 ¼ Middle, and 3 ¼ West. The eastern region includes Liaoning, Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, and Hainan. The middle region covers Heilongjiang, Jilin, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Guangxi and the rest of the provinces belong to the western region. There exist great disparities in the level of economic and social development as well as education among the three geographical regions (Connelly & Zheng, 2007a, 2007b; National Bureau of Statistics, 2003).

17 Trends in Educational Attainment 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35 37 39 Fig. 2 plots the average years of schooling by birth year for those aged 15 or older and have completed education, separated by gender and hukou status, using the sample data from the mini-census in 2005. Over time, we observe a significant increase in schooling across birth cohorts for both men and women in rural and urban China. Moreover, gender gaps have decreased, and the decrease took place earlier in urban than in rural areas. For the post-1980 cohort of urban residents, men and women indeed have achieved parity in the average years of schooling. The rural–urban educational gap persists, except for the youngest cohorts born after mid-1980s. There are two reasons. First, educational attainment indeed leads to the change of hukou from rural to urban status, particularly for those able to attend colleges (Wu & Treiman, 2004). Second, most urban youth of the age are still enrolled in school thus are not included in the analysis here. When they complete education, the overall gap for this cohort may be as large as that for the older cohorts. Notwithstanding cohort variations are usually employed to approximate the impact of historical events in the studies on educational attainment (e.g., Hannum & Xie, 1994; Deng & Treiman, 1997; Lu & Treiman, 2008), this may not be applied to younger cohorts who received education because their years staying in school tend to be much longer than the older cohorts. As the central interest of this chapter is the changing educational inequality in the

Changes in Educational Inequality in China, 1990–2005


1 3 5
Years of Schooling

13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

7 9 11 13 15 17 19

2 1 0 1930 1934 1938 1942 1946 1950 1954 1958 1962 1966 1970 1974 1978 1982 1986 1990 Birth Year urban male Birth Year urban female rural male rural female

Fig. 2.

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Average Years of Schooling by Birth Year in China, 2005. Source: China population mini-census data, 2005.

context of educational expansion in late reform-era China, in the following, we select three young cohorts (age 20–24, 25–29, and 30–34) in each wave of censuses/mini-census and inspect the changing gender and rural–urban gaps in both schooling completed and the levels of education attained. Results are presented in Table 4. As the first row of Table 4 shows, the average years of schooling increase over the years for all three age groups. For instance, people who aged between 20–24 in 1990, 2000, and 2005 have respectively received 7.8, 9.2, and 9.6 years of schooling on average. Because these groups are not overlapped with each other (in other words, those aged 20–24 in 1990 are not the same group as those aged 20–24 in 2000 and 2005), the growth in schooling can be attributed to temporal effect rather than cohort effect. The latter can be observed by comparing the years of schooling between those aged 20–24 in 1990 and those aged in 30–34 in 2000 (7.8 vs. 8.6 years). The trends in gender and rural–urban inequalities become more evident in the inter-censual analyses. The gender gap is reduced substantially from 1990 to 2000 for all three age groups. To take the youngest group as an example, men tend to have higher years of schooling than women by 1 year



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Table 4. Educational Attainment of Young Cohorts in China, 1990–2005 (by Gender and Hukou Status).
Age 20–24 1990 2000 2005 1990 Age 25–29 2000 2005 1990 Age 30–34 2000 2005

Average years of schooling Overall 7.8 9.2 Gender Male 8.3 9.3 Female 7.3 9.0 Hukou Urban 10.4 11.6 Rural 7.2 8.4 Junior high school Overall Junior HS Senior HS College Male Junior HS Senior HS College Female Junior HS Senior HS College Urban hukou Junior HS Senior HS College Rural hukou Junior HS Senior HS College

9.6 9.7 9.5 12.3 8.7

8.5 9.1 7.8 11.0 7.7

8.9 9.2 8.7 11.7 7.9

9.6 9.9 9.4 12.4 8.4

7.8 8.6 6.8 10.4 6.8

8.6 9.0 8.2 11.3 7.7

9.1 9.4 8.7 11.9 7.8

and beyond (percentage) 50.4 13.6 1.7 53.7 14.7 1.9 46.8 12.4 1.4 48.4 40.1 7.4 51.0 6.3 0.1 57.0 20.7 5.1 59.2 21.0 5.0 54.9 20.4 5.1 27.3 52.6 18.3 67.3 9.8 0.5 58.2 19.0 10.6 58.7 20.6 10.1 57.7 17.6 11.1 24.6 37.2 36.5 69.5 12.9 1.9 48.3 25.1 3.7 50.9 26.9 4.5 45.3 23.0 2.7 37.4 47.4 12.3 52.8 16.0 0.1 53.5 15.7 7.8 55.9 16.6 8.4 51.0 14.7 7.2 32.5 39.5 25.6 62.1 6.0 0.5 52.1 18.6 14.1 52.5 19.8 14.8 51.7 17.5 13.5 24.9 34.3 38.9 65.7 10.7 1.7 40.6 27.8 2.5 44.0 29.1 3.2 35.9 26.0 1.6 39.3 47.0 7.4 41.2 18.3 0.1 52.3 12.9 6.4 55.6 14.3 7.3 48.7 11.4 5.4 39.0 34.0 23.2 57.1 5.2 0.2 52.2 15.2 11.2 53.6 16.4 12.4 50.8 14.0 10.1 31.8 32.5 32.6 62.2 6.6 0.7

in 1990, 0.3 years in 2000, and 0.2 years in 2005. The disparities in schooling between population of urban and rural hukou status remain largely constant, by more than 3 years of schooling. This gap, however, may be overestimated thus should be interpreted cautiously, as the classification is based on the respondent’s current hukou status, and people from rural hukou origins could have changed their status by receiving higher education (Wu & Treiman, 2004).

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The temporal change in the average years of schooling may not reflect the structural changes in schooling people have achieved. In the lower panel of Table 4, we present percentage distribution of educational levels: junior high school, senior high school (including both academic and vocational), and college (including both three-year college and four-year university or above). We see a dramatic increase from 1990 to 2000 in junior high school graduates, particularly for women and for those of rural hukou, and also a significant growth in college graduates from 2000 to 2005. The pattern is quite consistent with the educational policy shifts in China since the 1990s.

School Enrollment and Transitions The census data also allow us to conduct analysis on school enrollments and transitions for those who are currently receiving education. In Table 5, we compute school enrollment rates for those aged from 13–22, divide into three subgroups: 13–15, 16–18, and 19–22, the typical ages for students enrolled in junior high school, senior high school, and college, respectively. We also compute the rates by gender and hukou status. As shown in the table, the overall enrollment rates decline with age but increase over years. For example, in 1990, 68.6 percent of those aged 13–15 were in school, compared to 27.2 percent of those aged 16–18 and 6.8 percent of those aged 19–22; on the contrary, for those who aged 19–22, the enrollment rate was 6.8 percent in 1990, 14.3 percent in 2000 and 19.7 percent in 2005. Table 5. School Enrollment Rate in China, 1990–2005 (by Gender and Hukou Status).
Ages 13–15 1990 Overall Gender Male Female Hukou status Urban Rural 0.686 0.750 0.618 0.900 0.649 2000 0.876 0.893 0.857 0.962 0.857 2005 0.912 0.914 0.910 0.960 0.900 1990 0.272 0.310 0.233 0.590 0.209 Ages 16–18 2000 0.465 0.481 0.448 0.805 0.349 2005 0.579 0.592 0.564 0.816 0.510 1990 0.068 0.084 0.052 0.223 0.030 Ages 19–22 2000 0.143 0.160 0.126 0.379 0.047 2005 0.197 0.217 0.179 0.435 0.112

Notes: Enrollment rate is defined as the total enrollment at specific level of schools at typical age divided by all people in the age group (13–15 for junior high school, 16–18 for senior high school and 19–22 for college).



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This trend is also true for both men and women and for people of rural and urban status. In Table 6, for each year, we calculate the rate of transition to junior high school given the completion of primary school for those aged between 13 and 15, the rate of transition to senior high school given the completion of junior high school for those aged between 16 and 18, and the rate of transition to college given the completion of senior high school (including vocational school) for those aged between 19 and 22. The rate of transition to junior high school in all three years match the government statistics quite closely, as shown in Table 1 (75.8 percent vs. 74.6 percent in 1990, 93.3 percent vs. 94.9 percent in 2000, and 96.7 percent vs. 98.4 percent in 2005). Beyond the compulsory education, the rate of school advancement is lower than that reported in government statistics (33.4 percent vs. 40.6 percent in 1990, and 49.1 percent vs. 51.1 percent in 2000, and 60.3 percent vs. 69.7 percent in 2005). The discrepancy may be because our rates were constructed based on age, rather than the actual level of school one was attending; there is also a relatively larger variation in age among those who attend school beyond the compulsory level. As expected, the transition rates decline across school levels but increase over year. In 2000 and 2005, the rate of transition to junior high school given the completion of primary school education is over 90 percent, suggesting the implementation of the nine years of compulsory education is largely achieved in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the rate of transition to senior high school increased from 33.4 percent in 1990 to 49.1 percent in 2000, and 60.3 percent in 2005; the rate of transition to college increase from 26.7 percent in 1990 to 38.4 percent in 2000 and to 52.4 percent in 2005.

Table 6. The Rates of Transition to Junior High School, Senior High School, and College in China 1990–2005 (by Gender and Hukou Status).
To Junior High School 1990 Overall Gender Male Female Hukou status Urban Rural 75.8 80.8 70.4 96.7 70.1 2000 93.3 94.9 91.6 99.0 91.7 2005 96.7 97.0 96.3 99.2 96.0 To Senior High Schools 1990 33.4 33.8 32.9 63.2 18.5 2000 49.1 49.5 48.7 88.0 30.1 2005 60.3 61.8 58.8 88.3 49.2 To College 1990 2000 2005 26.7 28.7 24.1 – – 38.4 40.2 36.4 – – 52.4 50.5 54.2 – –

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Noticeably, gender gap in school transition decreases, and in 2005, women are indeed more likely to get into college than men, a trend that have already been observed in other developed countries. We did not include the rates of transition to college by current hukou status, as an admission to college usually leads to conversion of hukou to urban status for those who came from rural background and the transfer of their hukou registration to their schools, which are mostly located in cities.

Because almost all children were able to attend junior high school in China, in the following analyses, we examine the determinants of the likelihood to transition to school beyond the compulsory level, namely, to senior high school and to college in 1990, 2000, and 2005. Again, we focus on gender and rural–urban inequalities, and their interaction effect, controlling for residence type and region. Table 7 presents the results from binary logistic regression predicting the likelihood of transition to senior high school for those aged 16–18 in respective years, given the completion of junior high school. Models 1a, 2a, and 3a are additive models, with gender and hukou as the key independent variables and residence type and region as control variables, whereas Models 1b, 2b, and 3b include interaction terms between gender and hukou status. Not surprisingly, we observe significant difference in the likelihood of transition to senior high school between men and women and between rural and urban hukou holders in all years. For example, women’s net odds of successful transition to senior high school after completing junior high school are only 82 percent ( ¼ eÀ0.193) of men’s in 1990, 79 percent ( ¼ eÀ0.236) in 2000 and 87 percent ( ¼ eÀ0.139) in 2005. There is a clear rural–urban (hukou) distinction in the likelihood of making such transition. It is particularly difficult in 2000, probably due to the expansion of the compulsory education in the mid-1990s that created a bottleneck for advancement to senior high school. The net odds of making such transition for rural children are only 16.8 percent ( ¼ eÀ1.784) of those for children in cities in 1990, and decrease to 10 percent ( ¼ eÀ2.281) in 2000, and slightly increase to 14 percent (eÀ1.933) in 2005. Two sample t-tests of the coefficients in separate equations show all differences are statistically significant ( po.001).



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Table 7.

Binary Logit Model Predicting the Likelihood of Transition to Senior High School in China, 1990–2005.
1990 2000 2005

Model 1a Model 1b Model 2a Model 2b Model 3a Model 3b Female Rural hukou Femaleà rural hukou À0.193ÃÃà (0.029) À1.784ÃÃà (0.036) À0.020 (0.043) À1.640ÃÃà (0.045) À0.315ÃÃà (0.058) À0.236ÃÃà 0.321ÃÃà (0.023) (0.052) À2.281ÃÃà À1.934ÃÃà (0.032) (0.041) À0.701ÃÃà (0.058) À0.139ÃÃà 0.056 (0.039) (0.103) À1.933ÃÃà À1.822ÃÃà (0.060) (0.080) À0.227à (0.111)

Current rural À0.417ÃÃÃ (0.036) residence Region [East (omitted)] Middle À0.176ÃÃÃ (0.032) West À0.045 (0.040) Constant 0.758ÃÃÃ (0.032) Observations Pseudo R2
ÃÃÃpo0.001. ÃÃpo0.01. Ãpo0.05.

À0.423ÃÃÃ À1.055ÃÃÃ À1.060ÃÃÃ À0.272ÃÃÃ À0.273ÃÃÃ (0.036) (0.026) (0.026) (0.043) (0.043) À0.178ÃÃÃ (0.032) À0.050 (0.040) 0.675ÃÃÃ (0.035) À0.070ÃÃ (0.026) 0.177ÃÃÃ (0.034) 2.230ÃÃÃ (0.032) 0.263 À0.077ÃÃ 0.194ÃÃÃ 0.193ÃÃÃ (0.026) (0.046) (0.046) 0.170ÃÃÃ 0.250ÃÃÃ 0.249ÃÃÃ (0.034) (0.050) (0.050) 1.952ÃÃÃ 2.008ÃÃÃ 1.913ÃÃÃ (0.037) (0.058) (0.073) 0.113 12,922 0.113


27,828 0.161

44,133 0.265

Notes: Standard errors in parentheses.

Moreover, in Models 1b, 2b, and 3b, we include the interaction terms between gender and hukou status. Results show that rural females are particularly disadvantaged in the likelihood of making the transition to senior high schools, compared to their urban counterparts. However, the gender gap has decreased in 2005. Table 8 presents the results from binary logistic regression predicting the likelihood of transition to college for those aged 19–22 in respective years. As we have mentioned earlier, we use the respondents’ residence five years ago in 1990 and 2000 to examine rural–urban disparities in transition to college. As the 2005 mini-census does not contain a comparable measure of respondents’ residence origin, we use current residence locale where their hukou was registered. The rural–urban gap in 2005 thus may be overestimated to some extent and the results are presented here only for reference.

Changes in Educational Inequality in China, 1990–2005


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Table 8.

Binary Logit Model Predicting the Likelihood of Transition to College in China, 1990–2005.
1990 Model 1 Model 1a À0.085 (0.049) À0.178ÃÃÃ (0.052) À0.558ÃÃÃ (0.091) À0.666ÃÃÃ (0.045) À0.689ÃÃÃ (0.059) À0.503ÃÃÃ (0.038) 2000 Model 2 À0.190ÃÃÃ (0.029) À0.459ÃÃÃ (0.031) Model 2a 2005 Model 3 Model 3a 0.122Ã (0.060) À1.168ÃÃÃ (0.115) 0.102 (0.161) 0.169Ã (0.071) 0.141 (0.085) 0.146ÃÃ (0.046)


À0.256ÃÃà (0.041) Original rural residence À0.371ÃÃà (0.042) Femaleà rural origin

À0.061 0.136Ã (0.036) (0.055) À0.293ÃÃÃ À1.118ÃÃÃ (0.041) (0.083) À0.369ÃÃÃ (0.062) 0.079Ã 0.169Ã (0.033) (0.071) 0.281ÃÃÃ 0.141 (0.041) (0.085) À0.350ÃÃÃ 0.139ÃÃ (0.030) (0.045) 0.027

Region [East (omitted)] Middle À0.657ÃÃÃ (0.044) West À0.683ÃÃÃ (0.059) Constant À0.430ÃÃÃ (0.036) Observations Pseudo R2 0.026

0.080Ã (0.033) 0.280ÃÃÃ (0.041) À0.286ÃÃÃ (0.027) 0.011

13,237 0.029

19,932 0.013

5,444 0.027

Notes: Standard errors in parentheses. ÃÃÃpo.001. ÃÃpo0.01. Ãpo0.05.

The patterns are quite similar to those previously observed for the transition to senior high school. In 1990 and 2000, females are much less likely to enter into colleges than males, and those from rural areas are much less likely to enter college than people from urban areas. However, as of 2005, women’s disadvantages have disappeared and indeed they have become to enjoy a slightly better chance in entering college, holding constant of the others. Given the completion of senior high school education, women’s odds of entering college are 14.5 percent ( ¼ e0.136) higher than men’s, and the difference is statistically significant ( po.05). Moreover, the interaction between gender and their residence origin indicates that rural females are particularly disadvantaged in 1990 and 2000. To supplement the analysis of the transition to college, we take advantage of an even larger sample of census to provide descriptive analysis of students currently enrolled in colleges. In Table 9, we present the percentage distributions of gender, province of origin and residence origin five years ago (for 1990 and 2000 only) in China and in the three municipalities



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Table 9. Profiles of College Students Enrolled in China and Selected Cities, 1990–2005.
All Colleges 1990 Overall Female Within-province origin Original rural residence Beijing Female Within-province origin Original rural residence Tianjin Female Within-province origin Original rural residence Shanghai Female Within-province origin Original rural residence 2000 2005 Four-Year College Only 1990 2000 2005

35.1 79.4 34.8 35.7 21.5 15.4 42.5 16.2 35.4 27.1 48.9 6.1

44.7 79.0 35.4 45.9 45.4 15.4 49.1 63.7 17.1 48.3 68.3 14.1

51.1 85.6 – 43.8 66.2 – 52.7 66.3 – 52.7 89.5 –

32.6 68.2 37.8 38.5 19.2 21.4 41.4 14.6 36.4 25.3 48.4 6.6

40.5 68.8 33.2 43.2 38.2 14.8 45.0 51.6 18.5 44.0 56.5 16.1

49.7 78.6

38.9 61.0 – 51.7 58.7 – 52.3 89.0 –

(Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai): the left three columns are for all college students, whereas the right three columns are for four-year college students only. Again, no information on the change of hukou status is available in the data. Consistent with results in the preceding analyses, female college students increase from 35.1 percent in 1990 to 44.7 percent in 2000. In 2005, they account for 51.1 percent of all students enrolled in colleges, and 49.7 percent of all students enrolled in four-year universities. In Beijing, where more tertiary institutions are recruited nationwide, females represent 43.8 percent of all college students and 38.9 percent of university students in 2005; in Tianjin and Shanghai, females supersede males even among university students. Although the rapid marketization of education and withdrawal of the state as the public goods provider may account for the increasingly unequal access to the enlarged educational pie, the long-existing structural problems in access to educational resources (e.g., good-quality senior high schools) and school admission policies, which are urban and regionally biased, could also be the reasons. Most good-quality or elite high schools are located in

Changes in Educational Inequality in China, 1990–2005


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cities, which are barely accessible to rural students (who need to hold local urban hukou status). The impact of social origins on school continuation may be mediated by regional factors through such schooling and admission processes (Wan, 2006). For instance, analyses of student archival data from Peking University from 1950 to 2003 show that students’ social origins are the most diverse among those from coastal provinces such as Jiangsu and Zhenjiang provinces, and the least diverse among those from western provinces. In particular, more rural students in Jiangsu Province were able to make into this elite university is associated with the spread of the key-point (zhong dian) high school to counties and towns in the province since the 1980s, which were more accessible to rural students within the county (Campbell et al., 2009). It is not surprising that most tertiary institutions are located in cities and in developed regions, as shown in Table 3. However, tertiary school admission quotas are set based on provinces in favor of those from large cities, especially Beijing and Shanghai, where most national elite universities are located. For example, among the 1,748 admission quota in 2004 from Peking University, China’s most prestigious university, 308 were assigned to Beijing (approximately 80 thousand students who take the entrance examination), 94 were assigned to Jiangsu (400 thousand students ) and 94 were assigned to Zhejiang (300 thousand students), followed by Sichuan and Hubei. Hence, it would be much more competitive to get into Peking University for those from outside of Beijing. The odds for a student in Beijing to be admitted to Peking University are 30 times larger than a student from Jiangsu Province. Indeed, in 2003, students applying from Jiangsu need to score at least 636, whereas students applying from Beijing need only 590 on liberal arts track and 600 on science track (Campbell et al., 2009). Issues on the geographic ‘‘discrimination’’ in tertiary school admission have been even brought up to the National People’s Congress in recent years (Wan, 2006). Although rooted in socialist redistributive hierarchy dated back to the 1950s (Zhou et al., 1998), the provincial admission quota system persisted in the process of enrollment expansion and institutional reform. Higher education was decentralized by increasing the decision-making power of individual institutions, provincial and local governments, along with the dramatic change in the education financing. Chinese higher education institutions, mostly concentrated in large cities and developed provinces, now increasingly rely on provincial or local governments for their revenues and other sources. In return, the enrollment increases would favor local students.



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As Table 9 shows, among all students enrolled in colleges, 79.4 percent from the same province where the college is located in 1990, 79.0 percent from the same province in 2000, and 85.6 percent in 2005. This is also true for students in four-year universities. In particular, although only 21.5 percent college students in Beijing were originally from Beijing, the number rose to 45.4 percent in 2000 and to 66.2 percent in 2005; in Tianjin, the percentage of students from Tianjin increased from 16.2 percent in 1990 to 63.7 percent in 2000 and 66.3 percent in 2005. In Shanghai, the figure rose from 48.9 percent in 1990 to 68.9 percent in 2000 and 89.5 percent in 2005. The decline of college students from rural backgrounds has been widely discussed by the public and concerned the top leadership in China. Our data show that rural students represent about one-third of all college students in both 1990 and 2000; however, the percentages among university students declined from 37.8 percent to 33.2 percent in the decades. The decline is particularly prominent in provincial-level municipalities. For example, the figure changes from 21.4 percent to 14.8 percent in Beijing and from 36.4 percent to 18.5 percent in Tianjin over the decade. In Shanghai, the share has increased, but even in 2000, only 16.1 percent university students in Shanghai come from rural origins. These figures can be contrast to the fact that, of the Chinese national population, 66.2 percent reside in rural areas in 1990 and 63.2 percent in 2000 (Table 2). Hence, the expansion of higher education in the 1990s in China mainly benefits females and people from urban areas (particularly large cities), gender gaps were reduced but the rural–urban relative gaps are enlarged.

To summarize, this study examined the trend in educational stratification during China’s economic reforms since the 1990 to date. On the basis of the samples of the population census data for 1990 and 2000, and mini-census data for 2005, we analyze the changing gender inequality and rural–urban inequality in educational attainment, school enrollment, and transition from junior high school to senior high school and from senior high school to college over the period of 15 years. Results show a substantial expansion of educational opportunities from 1990 to 2005. Children of rural hukou status, especially girls, have gained more opportunities at junior high school level as a result of nationwide successful implementation in the nine-year compulsory education. However, the more equitable access to basic education also created a bottleneck for

Changes in Educational Inequality in China, 1990–2005


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continuing on senior high school beyond the compulsory level. During the decade, the rural–urban gap in the likelihood of transition to senior high school was enlarged, particularly for females in 2000. For transition to college, evidence also shows that rural–urban gaps increase, but gender gaps decline over time. In 2005, women indeed enjoy advantages in attending college. Analyses of students enrolled in colleges suggest that the expanding opportunities in higher education are increasingly taken by women, students from urban areas, particularly from large cities. Our results on the trend in gender inequality in education confirms what have been observed in other countries, that is, the trends in educational stratification favor women (Buchmann & DiPrete, 2006; Hout & DiPrete, 2006). Yet the persisting and even increasing rural–urban gap suggests that the educational opportunities continued to be shaped by the social structure inherited from China’s socialist past. The economic development and increasing population movement within the country has not dissolved the fundamental social divide between rural and urban China. Throughout the process of school expansion and educational reform, the Chinese state plays a strong role in educational policy formation, as clearly evidenced by the government decision to drastically increase tertiary enrollments since 1998 (Wan, 2006). Although there were many other social, demographic, and global forces driving the policy changes, the economic consideration dominated the discussions in the literature on educational reform, with little serious concerns about the equity issues (Hayhoe, 1995). As many Chinese economists put it, the expansion, in the short run, would boost China’s domestic consumption suffered from the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and in the long run, would also help to reduce the gap between China and western countries and to enhance China’s competitive advantages in increasingly globalized and integrated economies. As a matter of fact, Chinese government has started several initiatives to build programs of academic excellence since the 1990s. Project 211 aims to strengthen research infrastructure in approximately 100 selected universities and the target areas as a national priority in the 21st century, whereas Project 985 identifies the best universities in China with substantial funding support to enhance their international competitiveness (Wu, 2009b). Although the anticipated effect of higher education expansion on either domestic consumption or economic growth remains to be empirically investigated, education equity has increasingly become an important issue as an unintended consequence. Who would benefit the increased opportunities? The unconventional pace of educational expansion suggests that these



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opportunities are available only to those who are able to complete senior high school education, to which rural students are clearly disadvantaged in access. The cost-sharing system, coupled with rising income inequality in the country, would further enlarge the gap among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Within the higher education system, students from families with more social, economic, and cultural resources are squeezing out students from disadvantaged families in national elite universities. Such a stratification process within the tertiary institutions may lead to increasing economic inequality after they complete education and enter labor markets (Min, 2007; Yang, 2006). Hence, effective measures in terms of both financial resources and quality of primary and secondary education need to be taken to address the equity issues arising from the educational expansion and to ensure the key role of education in the Chinese meritocratic stratification system.

National Bureau of Statistics (2006).

1. Although ethnicity (Han vs. minority) is certainly another dimension of educational inequality in China (Hannum, 2002), we leave this topic for a separate investigation. 2. The first and foremost advocate of this policy is Tang Min, then an economist of the Asian Development Bank, who predicted that doubling the higher education enrollments within three years would increase domestic consumption by about 100 billion RMB yuan (Wan, 2006). 3. According to the Ministry of Education of China, in the year of 2003, 109,200 of 117,300 students and scholars studying abroad were self-funded. Statistics also show that young people studying abroad under age 22 have increased at an annual rate of 40 percent from 2000 to 2003, especially in countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Singapore (Tao, Berci, & He, 2003). 4. It is in the interest of local city government authorities to implement such social exclusions and maintain a pool of flexible labor force for economic development without commitment of access to welfare, benefits, and opportunities they had to urban permanent residents. Chinese rural migrants in the urban economy serve a similar role as do those illegal immigrants in western developed countries (Wu, 2009a).

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5. Among the 2,070 Chinese counties and county-level cities (containing rural population) in 2000, the educational expenditure per capita in 2000 ranges from 3.4 RMB yuan to 1,474 RMB yuan, with an average of 164 RMB yuan and standard deviation of 94 RMB yuan (1 RMB yuanE0.128 USD) (Ministry of Education and National Bureau of Statistics, 2001). 6. City/county-level enrollment rates are computed by the author based on 0.9% of the 2000 census micro-data. Results are available upon requests. 7. They represent 1m national population in 1990 (N ¼ 1,156,187) and 2000 (N ¼ 1,311,872) and 0.25m of the national population in 2005 (N ¼ 329,413). 8. Educational questions differed slightly in 1990 and 2000 censuses. For example, illiteracy/semi-illiteracy was a category of the educational attainment variable, whereas illiteracy was asked as a separate question in 2000. This discrepancy suggests that results for educational attainment for the same cohort in 1990 and 2000 may not be directly comparable. This chapter mainly deals with school enrollment rather than educational attainment for the relatively young cohorts, who are extremely unlikely to fall in the group of illiteracy/semi-illiteracy (see Hannum, 2005, p. 290). Because the 2005 mini-census does not make distinction between senior academic high school and vocational school, as the 1990 and 2000 censuses do, to make the definition consistent over time, we collapse the two subcategories into one in the census data.

The authors acknowledge the financial support from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (HKUST6424/05H) and a post-doctoral fellowship from the US National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation. We thank Miss Gloria He for her research assistance.

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