Social Cleavages and Preferences for Government Redistribution in Contemporary China

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Public preferences for redistribution are important for policymaking in authoritarian countries such as China, where political legitimacy has relied heavily on improving the population’s well-being and is likely to be impaired by growing levels of social inequality. What are ordinary Chinese preferences for government redistribution? Do they differ from the public preferences observed in advanced industrialized economies, or are they similar to those found in other developing or post-communist countries? Drawing on the World Values Survey of China for 1990 to 2012 and a multilevel data analysis, I find that Chinese preferences for government redistribution vary significantly with income, occupation, and place of residence as existing studies of advanced industrialized democracies and other developing countries predict. Moreover, Chinese preferences notably fall along state–private sectoral and labor-market insider–outsider cleavages generated by the country’s state socialist legacy and its newly developed market economy. These findings suggest that in contemporary China, multiple social cleavages coexist and interweave in such a way as to fragment society without fracturing it along a single and deep class line. This study helps advance understanding of the societal foundations of redistributive policies and politics in China and in transitional societies with newly developed market economies in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-450
Number of pages36
JournalStudies In Comparative International Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • China
  • Inequality
  • Public preference
  • Redistribution
  • Social cleavage


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