The truth about an in­come sur­vey

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Are­cent sur­vey of the “1980s gen­er­a­tion” that in­di­cates “Com­mu­nist Party of China mem­bers are bet­ter paid than non-mem­bers” and “most se­nior man­agers have only a high school or bach­e­lor’s de­gree” has sparked a heated on­line de­bate. Since many ne­ti­zens seem to have mis­in­ter­preted the find­ings of the sur­vey, there is need for some clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

The Fu­dan Yangtze River Delta So­cial Trans­for­ma­tion Sur­vey (FYRST), con­ducted by the In­sti­tute of So­cial Re­search of Shang­hai-based Fu­dan Univer­sity since 2009, is aimed at car­ry­ing out a sta­tis­ti­cal study of people born be­tween 1980 and 1989 in the Yangtze River Delta re­gion, which in­cludes Shang­hai, and Jiangsu and Zhe­jiang prov­inces. This re­gion ac­counts for only 1 per­cent of China’s to­tal area and 8 per­cent of its pop­u­la­tion. But by con­tribut­ing 20 per­cent of the na­tional eco­nomic ag­gre­gate, it has be­come China’s largest eco­nomic zone where nu­mer­ous so­cial and eco­nomic changes have oc­curred.

The FYRST sur­vey is the first all­round study fo­cus­ing on a spe­cific age group in the re­gion. Be­ing the first gen­er­a­tion of “one child” fam­i­lies in China and hav­ing grown up with the re­form and open­ing-up, the “1980s gen­er­a­tion” is dif­fer­ent from the 1970s as well as the 1990s gen­er­a­tions, yet it serves as a link be­tween the two. The FYRST sur­vey cov­ers var­i­ous as­pects — such as fam­ily life, mar­riage and em­ploy­ment— of this gen­er­a­tion in the Yangtze River Delta re­gion. There­fore, its find­ings are not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the rest of China, al­though they can be used as in­di­ca­tors for study­ing the so­cial changes in the coun­try.

For starters, what most in­sti­tutes for so­cial sci­ence re­search seek to un­veil in a sur­vey is the rel­e­vance rather than causal­ity of re­search el­e­ments. In other words, from the high­lighted in­come dif­fer­ence be­tween a Party mem­ber and non-Party mem­ber in the sur­vey, one can only as­sume that po­lit­i­cal sta­tus is re­lated to in­come level to some ex­tent; the for­mer does not de­cide the lat­ter, or vice-versa.

Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, the num­ber of in­ter­viewed Party mem­bers is only 11 per­cent of the sur­vey’s to­tal sam­ple, mean­ing 89 per­cent of those sur­veyed are non-Party mem­bers, with their re­spec­tive aver­age an­nual in­come be­ing 86,000 yuan ($13,807) and 57,000 yuan. Go­ing by the book, it would be fair to say that Party mem­bers are bet­ter paid than non-Party mem­bers.

It is also no­table that on aver­age the in­ter­viewed Party mem­bers have higher ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions than non-Party mem­bers. About 96 per­cent of the Party mem­bers cov­ered by the sur­vey have at least a bach­e­lor’s de­gree and 20.7 per­cent have a mas­ter’s or higher de­gree. In con­trast, only 63 per­cent of the non-Party mem­bers have at­tended a univer­sity and only 2.4 per­cent of them have a mas­ter’s or higher de­gree.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, the in­come of the mem­bers of the 1980s gen­er­a­tion in Shang­hai in­creases with their ed­u­ca­tion level. It is thus un­der­stand­able that Party mem­bers draw rel­a­tively high salary than non-Party mem­bers.

The fact is, an in­creas­ing num­ber of univer­sity stu­dents have vol­un­teered to join the CPC in the past fewyear be­cause the Party has been mak­ing greater ef­forts to re­cruit more young tal­ents. Such fac­tors have played a col­lec­tive role in in­creas­ing the in­come of 1980s gen­er­a­tion Party mem­bers in Shang­hai.

An­other find­ing im­plies higher ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions may not guar­an­tee higher salary and re­flects the com­plex­ity of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween po­lit­i­cal sta­tus and in­come level, as most se­nior man­agers of Shang­hai’s 1980s gen­er­a­tion do not have a mas­ter’s or higher de­gree. Al­though 18 per­cent of the in­ter­vie­wees cov­ered by the FYRST hold a man­age­rial post, only 15 of them oc­cupy se­nior man­agers’ post. Of the 15, seven have bach­e­lor’s de­grees, five, vo­ca­tional de­grees and three, high school de­grees.

The ab­sence of se­nior man­agers with higher ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions can be at­trib­uted to the dif­fer­ent na­ture of work they do. The ma­jor­ity of the in­ter­vie­wees with a mas­ter’s or higher de­gree have not been work­ing long enough to be pro­moted to se­nior man­age­ment po­si­tions. In com­par­i­son, those who grad­u­ated from high schools or col­leges en­tered their ca­reers ear­lier and thus gath­ered more ex­pe­ri­ence to get pro­moted. That’s why some ne­ti­zens feel that higher ed­u­ca­tion does not nec­es­sar­ily mean bet­ter pay­ing jobs.

By and large, the at­ti­tude of Shang­hai’s 1980s gen­er­a­tion to­ward so­ci­ety pro­vides am­ple ma­te­ri­als for study­ing the so­cial changes in China. But it would take more time and ef­fort to un­der­stand the logic in sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tions such as the FYRST sur­vey. The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the School of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Pub­lic Pol­icy in Fu­dan Univer­sity, Shang­hai.


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