The Structure of Labor Markets in the US and China: Social Capital and Guanxi

Nancy DiTomaso, Yanjie Bian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Despite the major cultural and political differences between the United States and China, in both countries access to jobs is supposed to be guided by fair and equitable procedures. In the US, there is a presumption of an open labor market in which potential employees compete on the basis of their qualifications, where the fairness of decisions is guided by anti-discrimination laws and normative organizational policies. In China, although there is a history of close relationships that guide the exchange of favors, following the 1949 revolution, Communist Party leaders were given the authority to allocate positions in ways that were supposed to eliminate special privileges of class and background. Yet recent research has suggested that social connections are an important part of getting a job in both the US and China for two-thirds to three-quarters of job seekers. In the US context, such connections are described as social capital. In the Chinese context, connections are defined as guanxi. In this article, we review research on labor market processes in both the US and China to address three important questions: (a) How can we understand the similar functioning of labor markets in such distinct cultural and political systems as the US and China? (b) What are the mechanisms or processes by which people find jobs in the US and China, and how are people able to access these mechanisms or processes in the context of constraining social structures and legal environments? and (c) What are the theoretical implications of the 'generalized particularism' that seems to shape labor markets in both the US and China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-36
Number of pages32
JournalManagement and Organization Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management


  • guanxi
  • labor markets
  • social capital
  • social networks


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