Please wait a minute...
Journal of Integrative Agriculture  2021, Vol. 20 Issue (4): 943-952    DOI: 10.1016/S2095-3119(21)63616-X
Section 2: Poverty alleviation through industrial development Advanced Online Publication | Current Issue | Archive | Adv Search |
Off-farm employment and poverty alleviation in rural China
LI Shao-ping1, DONG Yong-qing2, ZHANG Lin-xiu3, 4, LIU Cheng-fang1 
1 China Center for Agricultural Policy, School of Advanced Agricultural Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, P.R.China
2 College of Management and Economics/Center for Social Science Survey and Data, Tianjin University, Tianjin 300072, P.R.China
3 UN Environment Programme-International Ecosystem Management Partnership, Beijing 100101, P.R.China
4 Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modelling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, P.R.China
Download:  PDF in ScienceDirect  
Export:  BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


Two phenomena in the history of China’s economic growth during the last four decades are the increase in the share of off-farm employment and the progress in poverty alleviation in rural China.  Although both of them have been well documented in the literature, less is known about the linkage between the two.  To better understand the role that off-farm employment has played in poverty alleviation in rural China is critically important not only for China but also for those countries that are trying to reduce poverty.  Here, we examine the impact of off-farm employment on poverty alleviation in rural China.  Using the data from two nationally representative household panel surveys (China National Rural Survey and China Rural Development Survey), this paper provides supporting evidence that off-farm employment contributes to poverty alleviation in rural China.  Specifically, if household participation in off-farm employment increases by 10 percentage points, the likelihood for a non-poor household to fall into poverty will decrease by 0.88 percentage point whereas the likelihood for a poor household to climb out of poverty will increase by 3.5 percentage points.  In a word, off-employment can not only prevent rural residents to fall into poverty but also help those already in poverty climb out of it.
Keywords:  off-farm employment        poverty alleviation        rural China  
Received: 24 August 2020   Accepted:
Fund: The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71861147003 and 71925009), the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20010303), and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2019M650361).
Corresponding Authors:  Correspondence LIU Cheng-fang, Tel: +86-10-62767016, E-mail:    
About author:  LI Shao-ping, E-mail:;

Cite this article: 

LI Shao-ping, DONG Yong-qing, ZHANG Lin-xiu, LIU Cheng-fang. 2021. Off-farm employment and poverty alleviation in rural China. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 20(4): 943-952.

ghion P, Bolton P. 1997. A theory of trickle-down growth and development. Review of Economic Studies, 64, 151–172.
Appleton S. 1996. Women-headed households and household welfare: An empirical deconstruction for Uganda. World Development, 24, 1811–1827.
de Brauw A, Huang J, Rozelle S, Zhang L, Zhang Y. 2002. The evolution of China’s rural labor markets during the reforms. Journal of Comparative Economics, 30, 329–353.
BSJ (Bureau of Statistics of Jiangsu). 2019. Jiangsu Statistical Yearbook. China Statistics Press, Beijing. (in Chinese)
BSS (Bureau of Statistics of Shaanxi). 2019. Shaanxi Statistical Yearbook. China Statistics Press, Beijing. (in Chinese)
Cheng M, Li L, Zhang J. 2020. Spatial poverty of differentiation, trap formation and poverty factor. China Population, Resources and Environment, 30, 1–10. (in Chinese)
Dollar D, Kraay A. 2002. Growth is good for the poor. Journal of Economic Growth, 7, 195–225.
Du Y, Park A, Wang S. 2005. Migration and rural poverty in China. Journal of Comparative Economics, 33, 688–709.
Foster E. 1998. Absolute versus relative poverty. American Economic Review, 88, 335–341.
GPGO (Guizhou Provincial Government Office, China). 2019. Identification and withdrawal of poor households. [2020-12-29]. (in Chinese)
Han H, Gao Q. 2019. Community-based welfare targeting and political elite capture: Evidence from rural China. World Development, 115, 145–159.
He J, Shen Y, Tang W. 2020. Social capital, risk resistance and poverty vulnerability of rural female-headed households: An empirical analysis based on CFPS. Journal of Nanjing Agricultural University (Social Sciences Edition), 20, 146–157. (in Chinese)
Hu L, Wang S. 2017. Is China targeted poverty program facing the challenge of elite capture? Management World, 1, 89–98. (in Chinese)
Huang J, Zhang Q, Rozelle S. 2008. Economic growth, the nature of growth and poverty reduction in rural China. China Economic Journal, 1, 107–122.
Huang J, Zhi H, Huang Z, Rozelle S, Giles J. 2011. The impact of the global financial crisis on off-farm employment and earnings in rural China. World Development, 39, 797–807.
Jalan J, Ravallion M. 1998. Are there dynamic gains from a poor-area development program? Journal of Public Economics, 67, 65–85.
Jia P, Du Y, Wang M. 2017. Rural labor migration and poverty reduction in China. China & World Economy, 25, 45–64.
Jolliffe D. 2002. Whose education matters in the determination of household income? Evidence from a developing country. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 50, 287–312.
Kennedy E, Peters P. 1992. Household food security and child nutrition: The interaction of income and gender of household head. World Development, 20, 1077–1085.
Li M, Gan C, Ma W, Jiang W. 2020. Impact of cash crop cultivation on household income and migration decisions: Evidence from low-income regions in China. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 19, 2571–2581.
Li Q, Huang J, Luo R, Liu C. 2013. China’s labor transition and the future of China’s rural wages and employment. China & World Economy, 21, 4–24.
Li S. 1999. The labor migration, income growth and distribution in rural China. Social Sciences in China, 2, 16–33. (in Chinese)
Li S, Li F, Dong Y. 2018. The impact evaluation of the policy of poverty alleviation in concentrated poverty-stricken areas: An investigation based on PSM-DID method. Reform, 12, 142–155. (in Chinese)
Luo R, Liu C, Gao J, Wang T, Zhi H, Shi P, Huang J. 2020. Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on rural poverty and policy responses in China. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 19, 2946–2964.
Luo R, Zhang L, Rozelle S. 2011. Changes and challenges of off-farm employment of rural labor forces in China. Issues in Agricultural Economy, 32, 18–24. (in Chinese)
Meng L. 2013. Evaluating China’s poverty alleviation program: A regression discontinuity approach. Journal of Public Economics, 101, 1–11.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and United Nations System in China. 2013. China’s Progress Towards the Millennium Development Goals 2013 Report. [2020-12-29].
MFC (Ministry of Finance of China). 2019. The central government spares no effort to guarantee the investment of poverty alleviation funds. [2020-12-29]. (in Chinese)
Montalvo J G, Ravallion M. 2010. The pattern of growth and poverty reduction in China. Journal of Comparative Economics, 1, 2–16.
NBSC (National Bureau of Statistics of China). 2020. The population of rural poor decreased by 11.09 million in 2019. [2020-12-29]. (in Chinese)
Parish W L, Zhe X, Li F. 1995. Nonfarm work and marketization of the Chinese countryside. The China Quarterly, 143, 697–730.
Park A, Wang S, Wu G. 2002. Regional poverty targeting in China. Journal of Public Economics, 86, 123–153.
Ravallion M, Chen S. 2007. China’s (uneven) progress against poverty. Journal of Development Economics, 82, 1–42.
Ravallion M, Jalan J. 1999. China’s lagging poor areas. American Economic Review, 89, 301–305.
Ren Q. 2007. Thirty percent of Bingcheng household heads are women. [2021-1-7]. (in Chinese)
Rozelle S. 1996. Stagnation without equity: Patterns of growth and inequality in China’s rural economy. The China Journal, 35, 63–92.
Rozelle S, Park A, Benziger V, Changqing R. 1998. Targeted poverty investments and economic growth in China. World Development, 26, 2137–2151.
Solow R. 1956. A contribution to the theory of economic growth. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 70, 65–94.
Wang S, Park A, Chaudhuri S, Datt G. 2007. Rural poverty alleviation and village-level poverty targeting in China in the new period. Management World, 1, 56–64. (in Chinese)
Wei J. 2020. Supporting intelligence: The logic of action to alleviate chronic poverty in ethnic areas. Journal of Finance and Economics, 46, 155–168. (in Chinese)
World Bank. 2014. Prosperity for all: Ending extreme poverty. [2021-1-7].
World Bank. 2018. Poverty and shared prosperity 2018: Piecing together the poverty puzzle. World Bank, Washington, D.C.
World Bank. 2020a. East Asia and Pacific in the time of COVID-19. East Asia and Pacific Economic Update (April). World Bank, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-1565-2.
World Bank. 2020b. Poverty and shared prosperity 2020: reversals of fortune. World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Yang Z. 2009. Fragile poverty, sunk costs, separation of investment and beneficiary subjects - theoretical interpretation and countermeasures of peasant family’s poverty caused by study. The World of Survey and Research, 6, 14–17. (in Chinese)
Yao S. 2000. Economic development and poverty reduction in China over 20 years of reforms. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 48, 447–474.
Zhang J, Zhang L, Rozelle S, Boucher S. 2006. Self-employment with Chinese characteristics: The forgotten engine of rural China’s growth. Contemporary Economic Policy, 24, 446–458.
Zhang L, de Brauw A, Rozelle S. 2004. China’s rural labor market development and its gender implications. China Economic Review, 15, 230–247.
Zhang L, Dong Y, Liu C, Bai Y. 2018. Off-farm employment over the past four decades in rural China. China Agricultural Economic Review, 10, 190–214.
Zhang L, Huang J, Rozelle S. 2003. China’s war on poverty: Assessing targeting and the growth impact of poverty program. Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, 1, 299–315.
Zhang T, Li S. 2020. Study on poverty caused by diseases and anti-poverty problems of rural residents in China. Labor Security World, 5, 24. (in Chinese)
Zheng P, Liu C. 2018. Predicament in the precision identification of poverty-stricken households and the construction of identification mechanism in targeted poverty alleviation. Economic Geography, 38, 176–182. (in Chinese)
Zhi H, Huang Z, Huang J, Rozelle S, Mason A D. 2013. Impact of the global financial crisis in rural China: Gender, off-farm employment, and wages. Feminist Economics, 19, 238–266.
Zhu N, Luo X. 2008. The Impact of Remittances on Rural Poverty and Inequality in China. World Bank Publications, Washington, D.C.
Zhu N, Luo X. 2010. The impact of migration on rural poverty and inequality: A case study in China. Agricultural Economics, 41, 191–204.
[1] PENG Yan-ling, Yanjun REN, LI Hou-jian. Do credit constraints affect households’ economic vulnerability? Empirical evidence from rural China[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(9): 2552-2568.
[2] LENG Gan-xiao, FENG Xiao-long, QIU Huan-guang . Income effects of poverty alleviation relocation program on rural farmers in China[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(4): 891-904.
[3] LIU Ming-yue, FENG Xiao-long, WANG San-gui, ZHONG Yu. Does poverty-alleviation-based industry development improve farmers’ livelihood capital?[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(4): 915-926.
[4] Karine HAJI. E-commerce development in rural and remote areas of BRICS countries[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(4): 979-997.
[5] PENG Chao, MA Biao, ZHANG Chen. Poverty alleviation through e-commerce: Village involvement and demonstration policies in rural China[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(4): 998-1011.
[6] BAI Yun-li, ZHANG Lin-xiu, SUN Ming-xing, XU Xiang-bo. Status and path of intergenerational transmission of poverty in rural China: A human capital investment perspective[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(4): 1080-1091.
[7] LIU Xiao-hong, WANG Wei-dong, ZHANG Lin-xiu. The power of informal institutions: The impact of clan culture on the depression of the elderly in rural China[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(4): 1107-1118.
[8] LI Lei, ZHAI Shi-xian, BAI Jun-fei. The dynamic impact of income and income distribution on food consumption among adults in rural China[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(1): 330-342.
[9] LIU Xiao-yue, ZHAO Qi-ran, CHEN Qi-hui .
Better nutrition, healthier mind?  Experimental evidence from primary schools in rural northwestern China
[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2019, 18(8): 1768-1779.
No Suggested Reading articles found!