Explaining life chances in China's economic transformation: A life course approach

Xueguang Zhou, Phyllis Moen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In this study, we develop a life course argument to link institutional change and individuals' life chances. We argue that timing (in terms of a particular cohort's stage in the life course) plays a critical role in moderating potential impacts of large-scale social changes on individual life chances because (1) life stage induces distinctive cohort responses to opportunities and risks in socioeconomic transformations, and (2) life stage (and, hence, cohort) is also closely correlated with one's position in the existing social structure. We situate our study in the context of the recent socioeconomic changes in the People's Republic of China, 1980-1994. We test our theoretical arguments and hypotheses in an empirical study of career pathways, using a national sample of urban workers drawn from 20 Chinese cities. Our findings show distinctive cohort variations in (1) patterns of job shifts, indicating cohort-based responses to opportunities and risks, and (2) the determinants of economic resources (personal income), reflecting variations in allocative mechanisms in shaping career pathways across cohorts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)552-577
Number of pages26
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is supported by a Spencer Fellowship, grants from the National Science Foundation (SES-9212936 and SBR-9413540) as well as from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (Sloan FDN 96-6-9, 99-6-3). We thank Liren Hou for his able research assistance. We thank the Departments of Sociology at Fudan University and the People’s University, as well as the Institute of Sociology at Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences and, in particular, Weida Fan, Qiang Li, Yunkang Pan, and Xizhe Peng for their assistance in data collection.


  • Careers
  • China
  • Cohort
  • Life course
  • Social change
  • Social stratification


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