Relative Deprivation in China

7 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2013 Last revised: 17 Mar 2014

See all articles by Xi Chen

Xi Chen

Department of Health Policy and Management; Yale University - Department of Economics; Yale University - Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies; IZA


Relative deprivation (RD), also known as relative poverty, an idea implicitly put forward by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and formally conceptualized by Runciman (1966), refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realize that others in the group possess something that they do not have. RD is important to Chinese people as reflected in the traditional saying “it is better to be the head of a chicken than the tail of a phoenix”, indicating that taking a relatively good position benefits people in the Chinese society. RD is also a pressing issue for China after its three decade unprecedented economic growth accompanied by inequalities at historically high levels. This paper reviews key measures of RD and empirical findings for China. I also discuss some of the most pressing policy issues with regard to RD.

Keywords: Relative Deprivation, Inequality, Poverty, China

JEL Classification: B4, D1, D3, I1, I3, O2

Suggested Citation

Chen, Xi, Relative Deprivation in China. Available at SSRN: or

Xi Chen (Contact Author)

Department of Health Policy and Management ( email )

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Yale University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Yale University - Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies ( email )

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