Population and Environment

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 400–428 | Cite as

Exploring relationship between social inequality and adaptations to climate change: evidence from urban household surveys in the Yangtze River delta, China

  • Yan Tan
  • Xuchun Liu
  • Graeme Hugo
Original Paper


This research enhances our understanding of the complex relationship between climate change, social inequality, and adaption, in urban areas. It is novel, being the first research in this area to be based on a conceptual econometric framework within which multiple stages are explicitly developed, and for which empirical evidence is gathered. We use this approach to examine the role of material, social status, and power inequality in influencing spontaneous adaptation choices in urban settings of China’s Yangtze River delta. This framework differentiates two vital stages in adaptation decision making at the household level which allows us to examine, first, how social inequality shapes the severity of climate impact and, second, how social inequality interacts with this experience to influence responses to these impacts. We pilot this approach in selected metropolitan areas of Shanghai and Nanjing. Our results show that all dimensions of social inequality are significantly associated with experiences of climate change and adaptation choice. Application of our conceptual framework provides policymakers and planners with a new and useful tool that can be used to formulate better policy measures that either enable the disadvantaged to adapt in situ or provide these groups with real opportunities and capacities to migrate.


Climate change Social inequality Migration In situ adaptation Yangtze River delta China 



This study was supported by the Australian Research Council Discovery project (DP110105522). We would like to express our great gratitude to four anonymous reviewers, Dr. Lori M. Hunter (Editor-in-Chief of Population and Environment), Dr. Heather Paull, and Dr Alec Zuo at University of South Australia for their constructive suggestions and thought-provoking comments on the early manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Discipline of Geography, Environment and PopulationThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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