All FSI Publications Working Papers

Can Elite College Education Change One’s Fate in China?

We study how an elite college education affects social mobility in China. China provides an interesting context because its college admissions rely mainly on the scores of a centralized exam, a system that has been the subject of intense debate. Combining the data from a large-scale college graduate survey and a nationally representative household survey, we document three main findings. First, attending an elite college can change one's fate. It significantly raises the child's rank in the income distribution. Nevertheless, it does not change the intergenerational relationship in income ranks or guarantee one's entry into an elite occupation or industry. Second, although access to elite colleges increases with parental income, the income gradient is much flatter than in the United States. Third, the score-based cutoff rule in elite college admission is income neutral. Overall, these findings reveal the efficacy and limitations of China's elite colleges in shaping social mobility.

March 22, 2022