The truth about an income survey
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.