The Contribution of Social Networks to
Income Inequality in Rural China:
A Regression-Based Decomposition and
Cross-Regional Comparison

Ming Lu
Jianzhi Zhao

Janurary 2009


This study aims to quantify the contribution of social networks, i.e., guanxi,to income inequality in rural households in China. One purpose is to understand how this influence varies across regions with different levels of marketization and economic development. Employing household survey data in rural China, we find that social networks contribute 12.1%–13.4% to income inequality among households in rural China, ranking fourth after village identifiers, nonfarm employment, and education. We also find that social networks exert a greater impact on income and a greater contribution to income inequality in Eastern China, compared with Middle–Western China where economic development is relatively slower. Our findings challenge the conventional understanding that social capital is the capital of the poor. In other words,the rich get richer in richer regions through social networks.

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