Global Resources

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

Author: S. Cook, S. Jolly
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Aug 2000
Economic reform in China in the 1990s has resulted in large numbers of workers being laid off from state-owned enterprises, particularly women and workers aged over forty. These people have moved from a position of relative privilege, with secure and well-respected jobs with good benefits, to a situation of unemployment, accompanied by loss of status and sometimes poverty. This report analyses the perceptions of members of this group, based on qualitative interviews and focus groups with 63 women and 30 men in the cities of Beijing, Changchun and Ya'an. Women and men have some different reactions to being laid off. For example interviewees generally agree that women are more willing to lose face, which means they are more likely than men to engage in petty-trading on the street even though they might still worry about what friends and neighbours will think of them. Both women and men interviewees agree that men should be the economic 'pillar of support' for the family. However laid off women report similar anguish to men when they can no longer contribute economically to the household, and when this results in a decrease in status and decision making power within the family.