Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 76 ›› Issue (12): 3043-3060.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202112012

• Regional Development and Carbon Emissions • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Measurement, spatiotemporal pattern and driving mechanism of social upgrading in China

HUANG Gengzhi1,2(), ZHOU Jin3   

  1. 1. School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
    2. Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai), Zhuhai 519082, Guangdong, China
    3. Guangzhou Institute of Geography, Guangdong Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou 510070, China
  • Received:2020-11-08 Revised:2021-04-29 Online:2021-12-25 Published:2022-02-25
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(42122007);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41930646);Guangdong Academy of Sciences Project of Science and Technology Development(2019GDASYL-0104004);Science and Technology Program of Guangzhou(202102020272)


Social upgrading refers to the process of improvement in the quality of employment and securing basic rights of workers as social actors. It is an emerging hot research field of labour geographies in recent years. However, domestic human geography research has been mainly focused on economic upgrading with little attention paid to social upgrading. This paper fills the research gap by establishing a comprehensive index to quantitatively measure social upgrading and revealing the spatiotemporal pattern and driving factors of social upgrading in China since the mid-1990s, using spatial analysis methods and quantitative models. Main findings of the paper include: (1) Social upgrading in China was improved, with its social upgrading index increasing from 0.358 to 0.445 during 1996-2017. (2) The eastern coastal area is the main upgrading area, especially the three urban agglomerations of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Yangtze River Delta and Peral River Delta. (3) Regional differences of social upgrading among the eastern, central and western regions were narrowed and the differentiation of development rates was alleviated. The central and western regions have been catching up with their eastern partner, despite that the coastal provinces will continue to be the leading areas for social upgrading in China. (4) Factors, including economic development, industrial innovation, economic globalization, labor skill level and state governance, have significant effects in driving regional social upgrading. The effects of these factors are not simply positive or negative in terms of their relationship with social upgrading, suggesting the complexity of social upgrading processes and global-local impacts on it. It is argued that economic growth does not necessarily bring about social upgrading. Rather, promoting social upgrading depends on the improvement in the quality of economic development. The paper contributes to the literature by providing a quantitative framework for analyzing social upgrading at the macro-level and advancing the understanding of geographical differences and driving mechanisms of social upgrading. The paper concludes by proposing some policies for promoting social upgrading and high-quality development in China and discussing its implications for future research.

Key words: social upgrading, economic upgrading, employment quality, regional differences, high-quality development