Chinese Journal Review: National Livelihood Satisfaction Survey Released, Rural Professional Associations and Farmer Incomes

November 2019

This newsletter helps readers see China as China sees itself. Every month I survey the latest papers published in leading Chinese language academic journals focused on domestic politics, foreign policy, economics, and technology. Translated summaries of those papers appear here.

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In this edition:

  • China’s National Livelihood Satisfaction Survey Released, Shows Dip in Quality of Life

  • Rural Professional Associations Do Not Increase Income, but Democratic Decision-making Helps

China’s National Livelihood Satisfaction Survey Released, Shows Dip in Quality of Life
Title: China's people's livelihood satisfaction continues to remain at high levels - China’s 2019 National Livelihood Survey (中国民生满意度继续保持在较高水平—中国民生调查2019综合研究报告)
Journal: Management World (管理世界)
Authors: Research Group of the National Development Research Center of the State Council, including Zhang Jun (张军扩), Ye Xingqing (叶兴庆), Ge Yanfeng (葛延风), Jin Sanlin (金三林), Zhu Xianqiang (朱贤强)
Publication Date:
October 2019

In October, the State Council’s Development Research Center published the results of its 2018 annual Livelihood Satisfaction survey in Management World journal. Researchers surveyed 51,606 people, including 64.5 percent in urban areas and 35.5 percent in rural areas.

Broken out by category, researchers reported the following (bold headers added by me):

  • Overall satisfaction declining. 49.6 percent of residents in urban and rural areas sampled said they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their overall quality of life, down from 52.8 percent in 2017. Residents who said they were “relatively dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their quality of life increased to 13.4 percent, up from 12 percent in 2017.

  • Confidence in the future declining. 68.9 percent of respondents said they were “confident” or “very confident” in the future, which the authors reported was down from 2017, and 10.2 percent of respondents said they had “little” or “no” confidence in the future, an increase over 2017 levels. (Note: The authors did not report 2017 levels for this indicator).

  • 75 percent of respondents saw no increase or a decrease in income. 52.2 percent of respondents believed their household income did not increase relative to 2017 levels. 22.9 percent of respondents believed their income decreased relative to 2017 levels.

  • Expenditures increasing. Meanwhile, respondents said their expenditures on healthcare, education, and housing increased. 70.8 percent said they spent more in 2018 as a proportion of their income than they did in 2017. 53.8 percent of respondents said they did not earn enough money to set aside savings.

  • High levels of satisfaction with government services. Residents reported “very high,” “high,” or “neutral” levels of satisfaction with government services in every area surveyed. Broken out by category this included: Security (93 percent), environment (87.7 percent), housing (84.6 percent), and transportation (84.3 percent), which received the highest scores. The judiciary (71.3 percent), education (75.3 percent), medical care (75.8 percent), and food safety (79.9 percent) received the lowest scores. (Note: The authors did not provide disaggregated figures, so it is impossible to know from these data what percentage reported “very high” versus “high” versus “neutral” satisfaction.)

  • Urban-rural divide. Rural resident satisfaction was lower than urban residents, and the urban-rural gap widened over 2017 levels. The gap was widest with regard to income level satisfaction (a 13.5 percent point gap), as more urban residents said they were satisfied with their incomes than rural residents did. The second-largest gap related to overall satisfaction with government services (6 percent point gap). China’s floating migrant population satisfaction levels on a range of issues “declined rapidly” from 2017 levels, according to the report.

  • Medical care at the top of household concerns. The researchers categorized concerns into two categories: household and societal concerns. Among household concerns, urban and rural respondents were most concerned about medical care (23.85 percent), income levels (23.21 percent),  and education (17.9 percent), although for those with children, education ranked first. Respondents’ concerns about pensions have “increased significantly” over 2017 levels, with 70 percent of respondents anxious about their ability to draw a pension when they retire. The proportion of respondents who said they are worried they “do not have enough money to afford to see a doctor” increased to 29.4 percent over 23.8 percent in 2017, however respondents also reported the quality of medical care improved. The authors noted that the average reimbursement rate for health claims dropped significantly, to 37 percent in 2018, down from 44.8 percent in 2017.

  • Food safety the top societal issue. Among societal concerns, urban and rural respondents ranked food safety as their top concern (26.41 percent), followed by traffic (12.54 percent), and the environment (no figure reported). The authors noted that, while the environment ranked third, concerns about the environment have dropped significantly relative to 2017 levels. Among environmental issues, residents cited water quality as their top concern.

  • Full employment, but… The survey found China achieved relatively full employment in 2018, however the proportion of unemployed people in the northeast (13.8 percent unemployed) and those aged between 45-49 (28.6 percent unemployed) both increased by 5.9 percentage points over 2017 levels.

  • Blame technology. The authors said that, in some cases, negative perceptions of government services could be associated with the proliferation of technology services like WeChat and Weibo, which have allowed negative public opinions and rumors to create concerns among residents, especially around issues like food safety and pensions.

  • Recommendations for the future. The authors conclude by making a series of recommendations: 

    • introduce tax cuts and adopt other measures to promote full employment, such as state subsidies, especially in view of the US-China trade war; 

    • focus on reforms to expand access to healthcare, bring down healthcare costs, and improve market competition for the pharmaceutical industry; 

    • improve food safety;

    • continue to prioritize good environmental stewardship; 

    • improve services for “last mile” rural communities;

    • invest more in education; and 

    • ensure the government makes better use of information platforms such as Weibo and WeChat to properly monitor and solicit feedback on public concerns.

Note: All authors are associated with the government-affiliated Development Research Center of the State Council, which publishes Management World. The authors did not publish the raw survey data, limiting the ability to perform cross-year comparisons for some indicators.

Rural Professional Associations Do Not Increase Income, but Democratic Governance Helps

Title: Rural grassroots governance, professional associations and increases to farmer incomes - (农村基层治理、专业协会与农户增收)
Journal: Economic Research Journal (经济研究)
Authors: Jia Junxue, Renmin University (贾俊雪); Qin Cong, Renmin University (秦聪)
Publication Date:
October 2019

  • This paper evaluates the effects of rural professional associations on promoting farmers’ incomes. Rural professional associations emerged in the 1980s to help small-scale farmers coordinate, share market information, acquire technology to boost productivity, and increase farmers’ income. The authors used survey data from 2,126 villages collected between 2003-2016 for their research.

  • The authors conclude that, in general, rural professional associations have had no statistically significant impact on increasing farmers’ income. However, certain qualities can increase the likelihood that these associations will increase incomes at statistically significant levels. For example, professional associations that adopt more democratic decision-making mechanisms tend to have greater farmer participation and higher income-generating effects, the authors write.

  • Additionally, associations are generally initiated by one of three entities: the farmers themselves, a local village party committee, or higher-level governments. Associations initiated by village party committees tend to have the highest income-generating effects, the authors write. Village party committees appear to be able to provide financial and political support to sustain local associations and are in touch with local farmer needs, the authors observe.

  • Associations founded by the farmers themselves tended to be too small and had limited available funding to sustain the organization. Associations initiated by higher-level governments tended to lack strong farmer participation, they conclude.

Note: The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences publishes Economic Research Journal.