How China Expands Its Social Insurance Coverage: The Informal Sector as a Testing Ground


讲座时间:2018年10月17日 下午 15:30 - 17:00





This study aims to answer the question of how social insurance coverage has expanded considerably in China in the past decade. The speaker argues that apart from the government, reactions from firms and workers can influence the coverage expansion of social insurance. Since the 2000s, the Chinese government has enacted a series of labor protection laws to provide social insurance to urban workers. China has achieved remarkable progress in coverage expansion since then. However, to evaluate the coverage expansion, two theoretical and methodological challenges should be addressed. First, distinguishing the effects of different actors, particularly between the effectiveness of government enforcement and firm-level compliance, is difficult. Second, coverage expansion can be overestimated given the strategic behavior of local governments to fulfill the policy targets set by the central government. This study uses a novel method to address the aforementioned difficulties. Drawing on a nationwide individual-level survey conducted in more than 50 cities in 2014, this work evaluates coverage expansion based on the social insurance enrollment of informal sector workers, which have two advantages. First, the effectiveness of government enforcement in the informal sector can be evaluated separately from that of firm-level compliance. Second, compared with that of formal sector workers, the enrollment status of informal sector workers in employee programs can systematically address the concern of local governments’ strategic behavior. This research has three findings. First, in contrast to many earlier studies, the present work finds that the coverage expansion of social insurance cannot be explained by either the fiscal capacity or enforcement effort of local governments. Second, enforcement from individual workers can be critical. Workers with high income or high educational level are more likely to enroll in social insurance. Third and most interesting, firm compliance is one of the major determinants of coverage expansion.


Dr. Qian Jiwei is Senior Research Fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. He is also a co-editor of the book series Social Policy and Development Studies in East Asia (Palgrave Macmillan). He obtained his B.Sc. in computer science from Fudan University, China and Ph.D. degree in Economics from the National University of Singapore. His research on health economics, health policy and social policy has been published in publications such as The China Quarterly, Health Economics, Policy and Law, Journal of European Social Policy, Journal of Education and Work, Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, Journal of Social Policy, Land Use Policy, Public Administration and Development, Public Choice, Public Organization Review, Singapore Economic Review and Social Policy & Administration. His recent book is The Rise of the Regulatory State in the Chinese Health-Care System (World Scientific, 2017). His current research interests include health economics, political economy and development economics. 

His home page is located at