In China as well as other post-socialist countries, the emergence of markets provided abundant opportunities for the old elites to convert their political power into physical capital, thus making socioeconomic status far more inheritable than before. Meanwhile, a more market-driven reward system spurred a sharp increase in income inequality, thereby equipping upper-class families with more resources and incentives to pass their economic advantages on to their offspring. The abolition of egalitarian educational policies, moreover, severely limited the channel of upward mobility for children of socioeconomically disadvantaged families. A combination of these processes may well explain the consolidation of status hierarchy and its influence on social fluidity.
Absolute rates of mobility, especially of upward mobility, have grown substantially from the cohort born in the 1950s to that born in the 1970s. This growth, however, has been entirely driven by the force of industrialization—that is, the placement of an increasingly larger share of children of farming origin into nonfarming occupations. When the farm sector is excluded, both the rise in upward mobility and the decline in class immobility disappear... Given that industrialization and rural-urban migration have sped up in China during the same period, this finding accords with our hypothesis that... the boundary between agriculture and other sectors tends to be more permeable in rapidly industrializing countries than in advanced industrial societies.
Xiang Zhou and Yu Xie (2015) Market Transition, Industrialization, andSocial Mobility Trends in Post-Revolution China