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  • Note: An early draft of this paper was presented at the conference on Inequality and Poverty in China organized by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, April 23–24, 2005. Special thanks are extended to the participants of the conference for their valuable comments. Comments and suggestions provided by the two anonymous referees are also appreciated. The author acknowledges with gratitude the generous support of the Research Committee of the Hong Kong Baptist University for funding project FRG/02-03/I-37, without which the timely production of the present publication would not have been feasible.

*Ying Chu Ng, Department of Economics, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China (


Gender earnings differentials in urban China by region and their changes during the first decade of economic reform are examined. It is found that the female–male earnings ratio increased during the early stage of reform. The male earnings premium, overall, showed an increasing trend in the later stage of reform. Decomposition of the gender earnings differential reveals that a relatively lower percentage of the differential could be explained by gender differences in productive characteristics in the fast growing regions and in regions with a rapid pace of reform. The cross-sectional results highlight the possible existence of gender discrimination, particularly in the later stages of economic reform and development. Both market competition and the effects of wage decentralization play a role in shaping the gender earnings differentials. Gender earnings differentials varied by region and over time, generally in tandem with the pace of economic reform and development. The decomposition of the over time changes in the earnings gap indicated that improvement in the productive characteristics of females during the reform period constantly enhanced the earnings of females relative to those of males. The changes over time in the return to female characteristics, however, work to counter any narrowing of the gender earnings gap.