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Residence Status and Housing in Urban China

The Case of Beijing
Statut résidentiel et logement en Chine urbaine. Le cas de Pékin
John R. Logan, Yiping Fang et Zhanxin Zhang
p. 497-510


Les réformes menant la Chine vers une économie de marché ont créé de nouvelles opportunités de logement pour les résidents urbains, en particulier la possibilité d’acquérir d’anciens logements sociaux à prix subventionné. Cette étude centrée sur le cas de Pékin démontre que dans le système post-réforme, comme dans l’ancien système socialiste, une grande partie de la population est marginalisée au regard de ces opportunités, du fait du statut de migrant. Les migrants sont particulièrement nombreux dans les immeubles locatifs privés de qualité médiocre et de loyer élevé, alors que les résidents originaires de Pékin continuent à dominer dans le parc locatif public subventionné et l’acquisition d’anciens logements publics. La source d’inégalité n’est pas le fait d’être un “local” ou un nouveau venu, mais plutôt la classification officielle comme migrant avec hukou rural. Les migrants à hukou urbain sont, en fait, avantagés dans le nouveau système. Les données d’après l’an 2000 montrent une expansion rapide des nouveaux logements produits par le secteur privé à Pékin et achetés au prix du marché. Reste à voir si l’accès à ce “logement commodifié” va surmonter les politiques discriminatoires d’allocation de logements par l’État.

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Entrées d’index

Mots-clés :

Chine, hukou, logement, Pékin, migration
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Texte intégral

1Housing is one of the key resources separating the haves from the have-nots in urban China. As recently as the early 1980s, when incomes were low and relatively equal among urban residents, the more salient dimension of inequality was in the housing system [Logan, Bian and Bian, 1999]. At that time, the source of inequality was not price but access to public rental housing (and to better equipped and larger units), and this was contingent on political position, work unit authority, and education [Walder, 1992]. Only official local residents had any entitlement at all. Subsequently much discussion has centered on the spiraling cost of housing, suggesting that financial resources might become the prime determinant of housing market outcomes. But housing purchase at a full market price is still among the least common forms of tenure, and the ability to buy at a discount – a core policy for the privatization of housing in China over the last two decades – can offset the disadvantage of modest wealth.

2Two decades into the history of market reform in post-socialist countries, it is still unclear to what extent market forces have fundamentally affected people’s daily lives and livelihoods. What was once a scarce resource available at cheap rents is becoming a consumer commodity for a nation of home-owners. But the market pathways to having a home are mixed with older forms, and public policy maintains insider advantages inherited from the socialist era. We focus especially on the role of residence status because it is so strongly determined by state policy. Migrants face challenges to their assimilation into city life in every country. But migrants are additionally subject to China’s system of household registration (or hukou) and related policies designed to restrain population movement. This system divides the population into a favored sector with full citizenship rights (people with urban registration in the city where they live) and a marginal sector with fewer and more transient rights (especially people with rural registration from a different province). In this way state policy in China magnifies inequalities associated with the rural-urban boundary for those who enter the city [Solinger, 1999].

3This study provides new information about the composition and functioning of the housing market in Beijing in 2000 and beyond. What are the pathways to housing and who can take which path ? As suggested in the foregoing synopsis our general perspective is that this is far from being a market system. Following the lead of scholars who have studied changing class relations [Zhou, 2000 ; Bian and Logan, 1996] our emphasis is more on the persistence of the prior allocation system than on the impact of market mechanisms. Parallel to studies of income inequality, we are especially interested in how different kinds of people are positioned within the system, in who is likely to have what form of access to a place to live in the city. By studying the distributional aspects of housing, we gain another prism on the transition from socialism in this country.

4In the following sections we review the forms of housing tenure and the dimensions of residence status, then we present and test hypotheses about how housing tenure is likely to be related to residence status and to other personal characteristics. We use the case of Beijing as the entry point to answer these questions. Elsewhere Logan, Fang and Zhang (2009) have addressed access to alternative forms of housing tenure in eight of China’s largest cities, and that study offers more detail on how market reform has affected access to each type. The focus on Beijing in this analysis allows us to examine in more detail the spatial distribution of people and housing types and to take advantage of post-2000 administrative and survey data to probe recent changes.

Forms of housing tenure and residence status in urban china

5The Population Census in 2000 identified six modes of housing tenure for family households. These include two rental categories, renting from the public sector (municipalities or work units) and renting in the private market. There are four types of ownership, distinguishing how the home was acquired : self-built housing, purchase of former public rental housing, purchase at market prices, and purchase at discounted (“economic”) prices. These types stem from the persistence of old forms alongside the creation of new ones. We expect to find that historic patterns of advantage under the socialist system will appear now as a higher probability of living in public rental housing or purchase of former public housing. To the extent that market capacity has become a factor, indicators of class standing will be a determinant of purchase of market housing. With some exceptions (such as foreign business persons living in apartments rented for them by their employers) we expect that renting in the private market largely continues to be a worse alternative into which migrant households are directed.

6This study emphasizes the role of residence status on access to housing. Rural-urban migration was quite severely curtailed with the institution of the commune system in 1958, but restrictions were relaxed under the new agricultural responsibility system introduced in 1979. Economic reforms since the early 1980s allowed the rural population to work temporarily in cities through individual or collective contracts with urban work units. This generated large influxes of migrants in most big cities [Liang and Ma, 2004 ; Wu, 2002].

7The weak position of migrants in the housing system is well known. Formal legal status is an important element because China’s registration system, initially deployed to restrict rural-urban migration, assigns different sets of rights to insiders and outsiders. From a legal perspective households that have “officially” migrated are granted household registration in their new location. They are not called migrants, and they have full access to all city resources. The Chinese term is qianyi (permanently migrated), different from zanzhu (temporarily settled). Official migration to most cities is modest in volume and continues to be limited by government policy. However Beijing has a particularly large number of official migrants, and many of these are retired persons who date their residence back to the 1950s – people who were drawn to government jobs or other opportunities after the Revolution at a time when migration was not restricted. The housing conditions of official migrants with urban registration seem to be on par with those of local residents. In contrast, as already noted, temporary migrants and all migrants with rural registration have restricted access to urban housing. Many settle in peripheral zones where low-quality and cheap rental housing is available and native residents are authorized to operate as private landlords [Goldstein, 1993]. Not surprisingly, these migrants are unlikely to become homeowners [Knight et al., 1999 ; Li, 2000b].

8Temporary migrants are expected to use employer provided dormitories, and otherwise they are more likely to share housing with others in collective (or group quarters) housing than to have their own apartment [Solinger, 1999]. Dormitories are built by factories who specifically recruit migrant workers, partly to facilitate long hours of work. Based on data collected in the late 1990s, Wu (2002) found that 75 % of labor migrants employed by enterprises live in dorms or temporary housing on construction sites. Alternatively, in order to lower living costs, migrants may share a rental unit with others and/or sleep in shifts. In either of these latter two cases, migrants do not fit into the standard housing tenure categories. For this reason our analysis treats collective housing (whether dormitories or shared rental housing) as a separate tenure category.

Research design

9This study is mainly based on the 2000 Chinese Census of Population. This is the most reliable and recent nationwide source of information about the population, and its large sample size and coverage partially compensates for its limitations. And although without longitudinal data we cannot directly analyze housing transitions (as some surveys do through the use of retrospective questions [Huang, 2004 ; Wu, 2004 ; Li, 2003 ; and Li and Li, 2006]), the census provides a more detailed classification of forms of housing tenure than has been used in previous survey research. Because Chinese society is changing rapidly, more recent data would likely reveal important differences from that date. We draw on Beijing survey data in 2001 and 2006 as well as recent administrative data to describe some changing characteristics relating to housing tenure since 2000.

10The 2000 census microdata file available for analysis constitutes a 0.1 % sample of the population enumerated in the census. Our analysis excludes households living in several of Beijing’s largely agricultural counties even though they fall within the formal jurisdiction of the city administration. It also excludes residents of township and village areas because these are known to be predominantly rural zones. There were 13,820,000 people living within Beijing municipality, including thirteen districts and five counties in 2000. Our analysis includes data from four city districts : Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chongwen, Xuanwu, four near suburban districts : Haidian, Chaoyang, Fengtai, and Shijingshan districts, and five distant suburbs, satellite towns and some rural areas : Mentougou, Fangshan, Tongzhou, Shunyi and Changping districts. The final dataset we use for this study includes 4,768 households, and 11,148 individuals.

11We treat the unit of analysis as adults (age 18 and above) who make housing choices. This means for people in family households we treat each household as a case and we use data about the household head (and spouse, if there is one). In order to encompass dormitory living and other collective forms in the analysis, we include all adults living in collective housing, treating each person in a collective household as a separate case. The assumption here is that every one of these residents has made an independent decision about where to live, constrained by some personal characteristics and by institutional regulations. This is the appropriate approach for the multivariate analysis, but it has implications for the frequency distributions of some key variables. For example, 27.2 % of housing decision makers in Beijing (labeled as “household heads and collective housing residents”) living in collective housing. If we had counted all members of family households, not just the household heads, we would have reported 12.3 % population in collective housing. For similar reasons, rural migrants are a smaller share of the total population than they are of the cases in our analysis.

Beijing’s housing stock : distribution by tenure

12The 2000 census counted six forms of tenure for family households (plus an “others” category that we list here but disregard in the multivariate analyses). In addition nearly one eighth of the total population in Beijing is in collective households, and we treat collective housing as another form of tenure, a variant of group-quarters rental housing.

13The first column of Table 1 shows the distribution by tenure for Beijing. Comparing the main socialist form, public rental, with the new form, public purchase, we find that public purchase is slightly overtaking the public rental as the dominant tenure. On the other hand, market purchase and economical purchase, combined, comprise only a tiny share in 2000. The other market-based form, market rental, is also a relatively small category. Although our sampling procedure attempted to exclude most non-urban areas where peasants build their own homes, self-built housing is generally more common than market housing, accounting for 10 % of cases.

Table 1. Average size, quality and cost of housing by tenure (family households)

Number of cases

Per capita living space (m2)

Quality index

Own/rent cost

Cost per square meter







Market purchase






Economical purchase






Public purchase






Public rental




$11.6 (a)

$0,3 (a)

Market rental




$36.8 (a)

$2.2 (a)







Note: (a) cost per month; 2000 Currency exchange rate: 1 Dollar = 8.28 yuan (RMB).

14In order to interpret the following analyses, it will be useful to know more about what kinds of housing these categories represent, especially in terms of desirability for residents. The census provides measures of the size, quality and cost of housing only for family households. Table 1 shows the average characteristics of housing of each tenure type. Size is the total floor space in square meters divided by the number of residents. Quality is an index ranging from 0 to 100 based on five aspects of housing characteristics : with or without kitchen, energy source for cooking (gas is treated as the favorable type), with or without tap water, bath facilities, and individual toilet. Housing cost (purchase price or construction cost or rent) was recorded in categories in the Census. The averages presented in Table 1 are based on assigning each case to the midpoint of its category (and at the lower bound for the top category). Cost is also calculated per square meter.

15The table reveals significant differences across tenure types. Self-built housing is generally large, cheap, but poor in quality. Market purchase housing has the highest per capita living space and the highest price. For those who can afford it, it is a good option. However public purchase housing has even better quality than market purchase and at a small fraction of the cost. Typically it is less spacious, but in light of its low cost many people would view it as more desirable than market purchase. Economical purchase (the slightly discounted version of market purchase housing) is lower quality than public purchase, about equally spacious, and much more expensive.

16Both the rental options yield considerably lower quality than any owner category. Unlike what we would expect to find in most market societies, market rentals are lower quality and offer less space than public rentals, and at a much higher lease cost. The typical market rental, then, may represent the least desirable of all tenure options.

17To capture the directions of change since 2000 we draw here on surveys conducted in 2001 (by Si-ming Li, Hong Kong Baptist University) and 2006 (by John Logan, Brown University). These provide sample information on the changing characteristics of housing with different forms of housing tenure. Table 2 shows the per capita living space, and estimated market value or monthly rent cost of five major housing tenure forms in Beijing. In terms of per capital space, renters continue to live more in more crowded conditions than owners. Among owners, the market purchase owners lived in much more spacious accommodations in 2006 than in 2001. This suggests a shift of market housing to larger sizes. Not surprising, since the public housing stock was mostly built long before 2000, public purchase housing size did not change much since that time. Most public purchases should have happened before 2000 and there has been little new development for public purchase since then.

Table 2. Average housing size and own value or rent cost by housing tenure Average housing size and own value or rent cost by housing tenure

Space per capita (m2)

Own value/Rent cost (per square meter)

























$0.8 (b)

$2.9 (b)




$0.2 (b)

$0.4 (b)

Note: (a) cost per month; Currency exchange rate: (2001) 1 Dollar = 8.28 RMB yuan; (2006) 1 Dollar = 8.07 RMB yuan.

18During these five years, the estimated market value of owner-occupied housing increased dramatically. Although the public purchase housing is not as spacious as market purchase housing, the average estimated market value for public purchase housing in 2006 is even higher. This might be because of the location advantage of public purchase housing, which has better access to jobs. On the other hand, it supports our previous conclusion that for many people public purchase is the most advantageous tenure form. In 2006, public purchase housing is already estimated to be worth more than market purchase housing. And public rental continues to offer good value compared to market rental.

19The micro-level census data do not provide information on housing location within cities. Knowing a home’s location, even whether it is found in the city center or suburb, would add considerably to this evaluation. Figure 1, based on aggregate census tabulations, shows the spatial distribution of housing tenure types in the urban portion of Beijing. The map identifies the type of tenure that is held by the plurality of households (not including collective households). Public rental is still the major form of housing tenure inside the second ring road. Between 2nd ring and the 4th ring, and also to the west of the city where most state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are located, public purchase was the most common form in 2000. These more central areas usually offer the best access to jobs and services. Self-built housing predominates outside of the 5th ring in what is still mostly rural land. Four sub-districts in Beijing are dominated by a market form : market rentals. They are located in areas at the boundary of rural and urban where migrants from outside of the city can seek housing. Peripheral location adds to the disadvantages of these two housing types. Market purchase is not the predominant form in any part of the city. It may be found in either city or suburban locations, and we suspect that its price varies accordingly.

Figure 1. Dominant housing tenure type by sub-district in Beijing’s eight city districts

Figure 1. Dominant housing tenure type by sub-district in Beijing’s eight city districts

Source: 2000 Census tabulation, provided by Geography Department, Beijing University.

Residence status in Beijing

20Having clarified the types of housing, we now turn to a closer examination of residence status. As noted above, the terms “native” and “migrant” do not fully capture the meaning of residence status, and “migrant” does not necessarily mean “floating population”. One of our contributions here is to provide a more systematic classification of people by residence status. An urban native is a person born in Beijing with urban registration” (the official category is “non-agricultural”). A rural native is born in Beijing but has rural registration (formally this is the “agricultural” category. Urban migrants are persons born outside Beijing but have urban registration status, and these are further categorized as established or recent depending on whether their length of settlement in the current sub-districts is longer or shorter than five years. Rural migrants are persons born outside Beijing who have rural registration status. They are also further categorized as established or recent. Urban natives are the category most often treated as the advantaged insiders ; recent rural migrants are the category closest to what the literature refers to as the floating population. Established urban migrants are an important and under-recognized category that must be distinguished from other types of migrants. Several scholars have noted that urban “permanent” migrants have mostly moved to cities where they were assigned to a specific job. They tend to have overall high socio-economic status and access to resources [Wu, 2004], higher human capital and mobility resources and better patterns of labor market entry and mobility than urban natives [Fan, 2002]. What is less clear from the existing literature is whether migrants with urban registration but who have more recently arrived in Beijing are also relatively advantaged, or whether their newcomer status is a disadvantage in the housing system.

21Table 3 shows the distribution of households in different housing tenure by their residence status. Consider first the last row of the table which reports the distribution of households by residence status. Recent rural migrants outnumber established rural migrants (who are only about 4 % of total). This imbalance is partly due to the fact that recent rural migrants largely live in collective housing, and we count every person in collective households as a separate case. But even if we counted differently, recent rural migrants outnumber established rural migrants by a ratio of greater than 2 :1. This finding suggests either of two processes : rural migrants tend to return home within five years, or they gain access to urban registration. Given the regulations governing change of registration, the latter is improbable. More likely rural migrants even as late as 2000 were still predominantly temporary city residents. Established rural migrants are those who have attempted to settle down in the city for more than five years but are still not legally registered with urban or local status. 

Table 3. Distribution of household heads and collective housing residents(age 18+) by residence status and housing tenure in Beijing

Table 3. Distribution of household heads and collective housing residents(age 18+) by residence status and housing tenure in Beijing

22Urban natives are the largest category. But compared to rural migrants, there is a much larger share of migrants with urban registration, and the majority of these are established (resident for more than five years). If we combine recent and established urban migrants, we find that migrants are close to half of the population registered as “urban” in Beijing.

23These results suggest that prior studies that investigated simply the effect of being a native or migrant, or having a rural or urban registration, may have missed some important variations. “Urban” does not necessarily mean “native” and “migrants” are not predominantly “rural” in Beijing.

24Having identified categories of residence status, it is now possible to see in Table 3 how they are related to housing tenure. Because it is natural to interpret the table in terms of which group has access to better opportunities, let us be clear about our assumptions. We begin with the less desirable forms. Collective housing is the least tenable on a long-term basis. Isolating people from family members and offering little privacy, it is practical on a temporary basis for single persons but not desirable. Market rental offers low quality at a high price, clearly disadvantageous. Self-built housing is low quality but at a low cost and with the advantage of an ownership interest.

25In contrast public rental offers good shelter at low cost and with no investment for those privileged to be allocated such housing, while public purchase as a discounted price is a reasonable investment for good housing for those who were able previously to rent a public unit. We perceive both of these to be very desirable alternatives. Market purchase and economical purchase yield good housing but at a higher price. Whether it is more or less desirable than public housing, especially public purchase, depends on factors such as location and potential resale value that we cannot assess. They may be best seen as a more expensive option for persons who have the means to buy and who did not qualify for public sector housing.

26Although Table 3 has many fine variations, some broad differences stand out sharply. If public rental and public purchase are the most desirable types, then it is established urban migrants who are most advantaged – more than 85 % of them are in these tenure types, especially public purchase. More than two-thirds of urban natives are in public housing or former public housing. This share is limited by the fact that urban natives are somewhat more likely than established urban migrants to be in self-built and collective housing (probably a negative outcome) and also more likely to do market or economical purchase. Hence being a native is outweighed by having urban registration and entitlements that seem to come into play only after some time of city residence.

27Recent migrants fall at the extreme in terms of living in collective housing, above 70 % regardless of whether they have rural or urban registration. This suggests that recent arrival itself is an important factor. Among recent migrants, if there is a small advantage of those with urban registration, it is that they are less likely to be in market rentals and more likely to have any form of purchase.

28The passage of time in the city plays a strong role in housing adjustments by migrants. The very strong position of established urban migrants was noted above. Established rural migrants follow a less favorable trajectory but nevertheless experience improvement – a shift from collective housing to market rental, to self-built housing, and to a smaller degree into public rentals.

29Finally rural natives are shown to be in a sense outside of the public and private housing market. More than three quarters of them live in self-built housing, for which their special legal status as local villagers gives them unmatched access to land on which to build. Some parlay this advantage into revenue as landlords, but in most cases self-built homes are substandard.

30The census questionnaire states that “all housing sources that can’t be categorized in the previous six groups are ‘others’”. We note that it most often involves rural migrants, similar to the system missing category. Wu (2002) suggests unconventional dwellings for migrants could include living in a boat, in hotel/inn, on the street or in a hallway, and staying in hospital rooms, all of which are as marginal as (or perhaps more marginal than) collective housing. The ‘other’ category is not included in the following analyses.

31A simpler classification of migrants vs. natives – the distinction between local and nonlocal registration – can be mapped using aggregate tabulations from the 2000 Census. Figure 2 shows the percentage of migrants (non-locally registered population) by sub-districts. Clearly this population does not live in the center of the city, but is concentrated particularly between the fourth and fifth ring roads – a pattern quite consistent with the location of market rental housing.

Figure 2. Percent of non-Beijing registration population by sub-district in Beijings eight city districts

Figure 2. Percent of non-Beijing registration population by sub-district in Beijing’s eight city districts

Source: 2000 Census tabulation, provided by Geography Department, Beijing University.

Multivariate models

32The last step in this analysis is estimation of multivariate models that reveal the net effect of residence status affects housing tenure after controlling for other demographic, socio-economic and institutional factors.

33We interpret some of these variables as institutional predictors, by which we mean factors whose impact depends on public policies. One of these is the distinction between local and nonlocal registration, which is another dimension of legal registration status. Another related variable is the spouse’s registration status – does the registration status of one spouse compensate for that of the other ? Another variable reflecting housing institutions is recent relocation within the city (within the last five years), which likely has consequences for housing tenure. Those who have recently moved are less likely to live in public rental housing, because it is being phased out, and therefore they are more likely to move to a form of market tenure. Unfortunately in this data set moves are recorded only if the person changes neighborhood (sub-district). We define “recent movers” as persons who moved across neighborhoods in the past five years.

34The socioeconomic variables available from the census include education, spouse’s education (for those living with their spouse), and occupation. Education is measured as years of schooling. Occupation is a set of dummy variables ranging from work unit heads and professionals/technicians at the top to agricultural laborers at the bottom, with separate categories for persons who are retired, unemployed, or students.

35Following the precedent of other studies of housing tenure in China, we introduce gender, age (treated as a possible non-linear effect), and household size (not defined for those in collective housing) as demographic control variables.

36Multivariate results are provided in Table 4. To model a dependent variable with seven categories, we use a series of logistic regressions in which the public rental group is treated as the reference category and compared in turn to each other tenure category. Public rental was the modal category in socialist urban China, and it remains an important reference point. A series of logistic regressions is equivalent to a multinomial logistic regression, but it gives us more control over model estimation. The analysis involves some comparisons where there are very few cases, and we avoid unreliable estimates of coefficients based on such comparisons by re-estimating the model without the corresponding predictor variable. For example, the predictor category “rural natives” was removed from the logistic regression in which public purchase is compared to public rental, because almost no rural natives live in public purchased housing.

37Some other variables cannot be included in the model for collective versus public rental housing. Because residents of collective housing are almost exclusively persons living without other family members, their spouse’s education and spouse’s registration status cannot be measured, and household size does not have the same meaning as it does for persons in family households.

38What we present in the table are odds ratios, in which an odds ratio below one means that there is a negative association between the two traits involved. In table 5, for example, .267 in the first row, means that the odds of living in public purchase housing rather than public rental housing are 26.7 % lower for recent urban migrants than for urban natives.

Table 4. Multiple logistic regression models predicting housing tenure in Beijing : odds ratios and significance levels

Public purchase

Economical purchase

Market purchase

Market rental



Institutional variables

Residence status (Reference category: urban natives)

Rural native







Established urban migrant







Recent urban migrant







Established rural migrant







Recent rural migrant







Local registration







Living status (reference category: living with spouse with urban registration)

Living with no spouse







Spouse – rural registration







Recent within city move







Socioeconomic variables








Spouse education







Occupation (reference category: manual workers)

Head of work unit














Staff or other personnel







Commercial or services







Agricultural laborer




























Demographic variables

Age (18 and above)







Age square







Gender (1=male)







Household size





















Model statistics

Model Chi-square














Goodness of fit







a.In all models “public rental” is the reference category;
b.Variable is omitted in the model because there are too few cases in the sample;
c.Variable is omitted in the model because it is not applicable in this model;
* p < .05 ** p < .01

Institutional effects

39The key institutional variable is residence status. We treat “urban native” as the reference category. We compare first to established urban migrants, the category shown above to have a relatively advantaged position in the housing system. Overall, it would be difficult to argue that established urban migrants are advantaged or disadvantaged by the differences shown in these models. They are somewhat more likely to live in collective housing and less likely to do market purchase or self-build. But they are equally likely to live in public purchase, economical purchase or market rental. Our conclusion is that they and urban natives have comparable positions.

40Recent urban migrants, on the other hand, are clearly at a disadvantage. They are much more likely than urban natives to live in collective housing. They are not found in economical purchase or self-built housing, and therefore the coefficients for these outcomes are not listed. They are much more likely to live in collectives, and less likely to make public purchase.

41Disadvantages are still greater for rural migrants. Whether established or recent, they are more likely than urban natives to live in collective housing. So few are found in public purchase and economical purchase housing that they are omitted from those two models, and recent rural migrants also are not found in the market purchase category. Their odds of living in market rental housing are twice as high as urban natives, but these coefficients are not statistically significant.

42Finally, rural natives are not found in public purchase housing at all, so they are omitted from the public purchase vs. public rental model. They are more likely to be found in any of the remaining housing types rather than in public rentals, and especially in self-built housing. Economical and market purchase are a positive option for those who can afford it. Self-built housing is cheap but poor quality. To the extent that rural natives are steered toward market rentals and collective housing, this represents a concrete disadvantage.

43Note that these differences are not readily attributable to differences in education or occupation. Income is unmeasured, but certainly access to public housing and highly subsidized public purchase does not have a high wealth threshold, and market rental is more expensive than public rental despite being of lower quality. Therefore we emphasize that what are shown here are mainly institutional effects – consequences of the lower citizenship rights of rural migrants and the “different” rights of rural natives.

44In addition to this main measure of residence status, Table 5 shows a test for the effects of respondent’s own local vs. non-local registration and spouse’s (rural vs. urban) registration. Persons with local registration are less likely than those with non-local registration to live in market rentals or collective housing. They are more likely to live in self-built housing, which is understandable because local registration is a prerequisite for having the legal right to a land parcel to build on. Generally these results show great advantage for locals. Compared to people with a spouse who has urban registration, persons living with a rural spouse are more likely to self-build. The rural spouse is both a handicap and a limited advantage. Persons living alone are less likely even than those with an urban spouse to live in economical purchased housing. Of course they are largely living in collective housing.

45We treat recent intra-city moving as an institutional variable because those who moved recently are most likely to participate in the newer forms of housing tenure recently created by public policy. This is the case, with a positive effect on public purchase, economical purchase, market purchase, and market rental – all compared to the old form of public rental. They are also more likely to be in collective housing (perhaps reflecting in this way the “floating” population), and less likely than more locally rooted people to build their own homes.

Socio-economic effects

46Socioeconomic variables (education, spouse’s education, and occupation) may indirectly reflect both institutional position and financial resources. We find that higher position on all three predictors is positively associated with public purchase. We note that higher status persons were more likely to be allocated public rental housing to begin with ; Table 5 shows that they are also more likely to make the transition to ownership.

47Only higher education is associated with economical purchase, perhaps because the regulations for economical purchase are supposed to favor people with below average means. But people with the highest status occupations (work unit heads in comparison with the reference category of manual workers) are more likely to do market purchase. Higher education (both head and spouse) is associated with a lower likelihood of living in self-built housing.

48One specific occupational category, agricultural laborer, is linked with self-built housing, reaffirming that this is a more common form in rural zones. Manual workers are more likely than any other occupation to be in collective housing – except students, who typically live in college dormitories.

Demographic controls

49Demographic variables include gender, age (with a squared term to test for nonlinearity), and household size. We did not have strong hypotheses about their effects, and we simply report them here. Men are more likely than women to be found in market rental and collective housing. Because other characteristics such as residence status that could have helped explain this result have been controlled, it is unclear what the source of the gender difference is. There are some significant age differences in housing tenure. Older persons are more likely (though the effect declines at higher ages) to live in public purchase and economical purchase housing rather than public rentals. They are less likely to live in collective housing. We suspect some of these differences reflect normal life cycle changes or a process over time that allows people to find routes to better housing choices. In the socialist period, as noted above, older age was a qualification for being allocated public housing. Finally, household size which used to be the central criteria of public rental housing allocation is found to have no relationship with housing tenure types.

Changes since 2000

50The patterns shown here for 2000 are not necessarily stable, and at the current pace of change our conclusions will need to be rechecked. The publicly available tabulations from the 2005 1 % household survey allow us to compare housing tenure distribution in 2000 and 2005. Table 6 collects data shown in the 2000 Census and 2005 tables for all Chinese cities and for Beijing. Note that the 2000 Beijing city data are different from those we reported above, because all households in both urban and rural areas are represented in Table 5.

Table 5. Distribution of tenure type of cities in China and Beijing 2000 and 2005

Self-built housing

Market purchase

Economical purchase

Public purchase



Market rental


National 2000








Beijing 2000








National 2005








Beijing 2005








51The overall trend of housing tenure distribution in Beijing from 2000 to 2005 is similar to the national urban total : a move towards more market-oriented tenure types. Public rental housing dropped from 33.8 % in 2000 to 18.3 % in 2005 in Beijing. Meanwhile the market rental share increased from 7.% to 18.%, and market purchase grew from 2.% in 2000 to 11.% in 2005. Because there was considerable absolute growth in the housing stock during this period, the increase in market purchase and market rental housing is substantial.

52The share of self-built housing decreased during these five years in Beijing. Two processes together might contribute to this change. One is that less new housing was self-built (so that the self-built share would drop even if the absolute number of self-built homes remained the same). The second possibility is that redevelopment projects were beginning to replace the original self-built housing stock.

53Public purchase housing maintained its share in the housing stock in Beijing. By 2005, seven years after the official termination of selling public housing in 1998, some work units continued to privatize their public housing stock at subsidized prices.

54Finally, compared with average Chinese cities, Beijing still has a much larger share of public housing (combining public purchase and public rental housing) : 52.% in 2005 compared to the national average of 32.5 %. Beijing also has a higher than average share of market rental housing in Beijing, perhaps due to its large international population.


55Studying the housing system in the city of Beijing provides a window to perceive how market reform is affecting the lives and opportunities of residents. It is especially interesting to study this during the transitional period while the emergence of new tenure forms coexists alongside of older ones. We have not focused (except indirectly) on housing inequality in terms of quality, size, or cost. Our focus instead has been on people’s structural position in the system of tenure. Who, we have asked, continues to have better access to more advantaged forms of housing tenure from the old system, and who is making the transition to more advantaged forms in the new one ?

56Previous studies of housing tenure used a simpler dichotomy between rental and ownership, and most studies compared residence status on a single dimension (urban and rural, local and non-local or temporary and permanent). Our main contribution in this study comes from offering a more nuanced treatment of both housing tenure and residence status. We attempt to specify in a more theoretically informed way the proper categories of both variables ; especially because both of them are susceptible to change as state policy inevitably evolves.

57The city of Beijing is a somewhat unique case because its concentration of governmental institutions embeds administrative forces more deeply in the market transition. Being the political capital, housing reform here undoubtedly has been implemented more cautiously and slowly. We have shown in this case that institutional factors are predominant in allocating housing by tenure. Two institutional variables not included here are party membership and work unit rank. Party membership has repeatedly been found to be associated with living in bigger and better housing [Logan et al, 1999 ; Li, 2000a ; Pan, 2004], and living in public sector (or former public sector) housing rather than in the private market or self-built homes [Zax, 1997]. People in work units of higher rank (hence with more authority and access to resources in the socialist period) have also been shown to live in larger apartments [Logan et al., 1999], to live in public rentals rather than private rental housing [Huang, 2003 ; Huang and Clark, 2002 ; Li, 2000b], and at least in the pre-reform period they were less likely to purchase than remain in their public rental [Huang, 2004. In future survey research it will be important to take these variables into account.

58Of the factors that we could evaluate, residence status is still the major determinant of outcomes. Natives with rural registration face a very different set of options than those with urban registration. Surprisingly migrants with urban registration do very well in the housing system. But migrants with rural registration are severely disadvantaged. And this result is not simply the usual uphill struggle of newcomers, because it moderates only partly for rural migrants with longer duration of time in the city. Even as the private sector of the housing market expands, we expect that rural migrants will continue to be relegated to overpriced and low quality private rental housing until there is fundamental change in China’s registration system. There has been much discussion of possible reforms since 2000, but up to now they benefit only migrants with very high education or great financial resources. And regardless of such future changes, urban natives have secured a permanent foothold in the middle class through the home equity made possible by the subsidized privatization of public housing.

59This research was supported by Brown University through the Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences initiative. Send correspondence to John Logan.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Dominant housing tenure type by sub-district in Beijing’s eight city districts
Crédits Source: 2000 Census tabulation, provided by Geography Department, Beijing University.
Fichier image/jpeg, 492k
Titre Table 3. Distribution of household heads and collective housing residents(age 18+) by residence status and housing tenure in Beijing
Fichier image/jpeg, 404k
Titre Figure 2. Percent of non-Beijing registration population by sub-district in Beijing’s eight city districts
Crédits Source: 2000 Census tabulation, provided by Geography Department, Beijing University.
Fichier image/jpeg, 352k
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John R. Logan, Yiping Fang et Zhanxin Zhang, « Residence Status and Housing in Urban China », Espace populations sociétés, 2009/3 | 2009, 497-510.

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John R. Logan, Yiping Fang et Zhanxin Zhang, « Residence Status and Housing in Urban China », Espace populations sociétés [En ligne], 2009/3 | 2009, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2011, consulté le 14 octobre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/eps.4434

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John R. Logan

Department of Sociology
Brown University
Providence RI 02912

Yiping Fang

Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies
Erasmus University
P.O. Box 1738
3000 DE Rotterdam

Zhanxin Zhang

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
5, Jianguomennei Dajie
100732 Beijing
République Populaire de Chine

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