Unemployment, Poverty and Gender in Urban China: Perceptions and Experiences of Laid Off Workers in Three Chinese Cities

Published on 1 January 2000

Since the mid-1990s China has speeded up its state enterprise restructuring putting large numbers of urban workers out of work, particularly in the heavy industrial bases of the north east and interior regions. Some groups have been more affected than others, with significant evidence pointing to women and those over forty being disproportionately laid off, and less likely to find new employment.

This report is part of a project to explore the changing nature of poverty and vulnerability in urban China and the appropriateness of the government’s policy responses. More specifically, this study was concerned with gender differences in the perceptions and experiences of being laid-off or becoming poor, and how women and men respond to and cope with their changing economic circumstances. Discussions of the gendered experiences of the loss of employment, income and sense of value or status are framed within changing political ideologies and media discourses surrounding the place of women (within and outside the home), the value of labour and the relationship between work and identity.

This report analyses interviews and focus group discussions with 63 women and 30 men in three Chinese cities – Beijing, Changchun and Ya’an – all of whom had been laid off from their jobs in the state sector. It explores their experiences and perceptions of unemployment and poverty, the coping strategies they deploy and the sources of support on which they rely, as well as how these perceptions and experiences are mediated by gender and age.

The report is based on in-depth qualitative research with a small group of laid off workers, and makes no claims to representativeness. Rather, we have attempted to present as accurately as possible the voices of the laid off workers and to portray their experiences in the hope that these may inform both policy interventions and the design and interpretation of quantitative survey work on urban poverty.

Publication details

published by
Cook, S. and Jolly, S.
IDS Research Report, issue 50
1 85864 336 8


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