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Can millennials access homeownership in urban China?

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In the past three decades the Chinese housing market has been profoundly transformed as China emerged as a world “market” economy. Now, a growing middle class is pursuing the Chinese Dream—a car, an apartment and a family. While there is substantial research on the Chinese economy and studies of housing in individual cities, we know less about the behavior of the youngest cohorts who are now entering the homeowner market. How do young adults (the Chinese Millennial generation) enter the urban housing market? Using new national surveys of China Household Finance, we ask the questions, (a) is the process of homeownership available for all? Are young adults in urban China able to access the Chinese dream of ownership? (b) what is the variation in access to ownership across dimensions of sociodemographic and institutional status? and, (c) how do parental transfers impact the ownership trajectory? The analysis confirms anecdotal studies that ownership is high even for those born in the 1980s. As expected, income and assets are important explanations of ownership as is parental economic transfers. However, the institutional structure of housing reform and government policies in China continue to play an important role. Furthermore, there are important differences between the 1970 cohort in contrast to the 1980s and 1990s cohort. Although there is a growing rental sector, overall the Chinese shift to a homeownership society is still largely successful.

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Fig. 1

Source: EMF Hypostat, OECD Affordable Housing Database, United States Census Statistics, Statistics of Japan, Statistics Singapore, Statistics Canada, Statistics New Zealand, Statistics South Africa

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  1. China identifies cities and metropolitan regions in a 4 tier system. Tier 1 are the very large cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Chongqing, Tier 2 includes provincial capitals, cities of 3–15 million, Tier 3 are prefecture capitals of 150,000 to 3 million, and Tier 4 are county level cities.

  2. Xinjiang, Tibet, Macao, Hong Kong and Taiwan are excluded from these provincial regions.

  3. We thank a reviewer for recommending the attention to the changing rental market.


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Correspondence to Diachun Yi.

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Clark, W.A.V., Huang, Y. & Yi, D. Can millennials access homeownership in urban China?. J Hous and the Built Environ 36, 69–87 (2021).

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