Social Quality in China

An Analysis of the Evaluation of Different Classes

in The International Journal of Social Quality

Abstract

Since the end of the 1990s, when European scholars put forward the social quality theory, related research has been recently and increasingly carried out in China. At present, Chinese society has entered a new stage of development, and the main demands of the population have gradually changed. For theoretical and practical reasons, it is highly attractive to strengthen the research on the social quality of China in order to meet new public demands and expectations and to promote the improvement of social quality through the implementation of effective politics and policies. Based on empirical data, this article comprehensively analyzes the cognition of different layers of China’s population and the change of the four conditional factors of social quality on the overall development of society.

Research Background

Along with the development of its economy and society, China’s “social class groups” have been differentiated. In this article, the concept of social class group refers to a category or cohort of people’s subjective, self-identified social status. Interest appeals of different classes are characterized by being diversified and multidimensional. In the 40 years since the “reform and opening up,” China has seen a significant improvement in its economic productivity and people’s living standards (of the production and reproduction relationships). China has also undergone profound changes in societal-oriented demands and expectations of its people (Li 2018). Each social class group’s qualitative development of daily circumstances reflects to some extent the degree to which their demands and expectations are satisfied. The recent increase of populism may be appreciated as a demonstration of this crisis. In other words, the increase of the quality of daily circumstances will inevitably require that the change of demands and expectations of different classes will be satisfied. In this new societal context, in order to improve China’s quality of daily circumstances in the new era, it is essential to fully understand the current changes of demands and expectations of different social classes. This will be also a condition to achieve stable and sustainable societal development. Meanwhile, with the gradual expansion of the middle-income social class group, China’s societal structure has been gradually transformed from a traditional pyramid structure to an olive-shaped structure. The public’s main demands have also gradually changed from the traditional material demands to demands for a qualitative leap of political relationships and the nature of daily circumstances. Therefore, to identify these demands and expectations in the new era, an evaluation of the qualitative development of the satisfaction of people’s demands should be highly important for new politics and policies.

In this article, data from the 2017 Chinese Social Survey of the Institute of Sociology within the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences are collected and used to analyze and discuss each social class group’s cognition about the effect of the four conditional factors of social quality—that is, socioeconomic security, social cohesion, social inclusion, and social empowerment—on the overall development of society and people’s daily circumstances. Herewith, it is possible to provide a policy basis and theoretical guidance for satisfying new demands of different social class groups in the new era, comprehensively improving qualitative development, and building a high-quality modern society.

Literature Review

The social quality (SQ) theory first appeared in the European Union in the 1990s. Its theoretical background was that because the position of neoliberalism became increasingly prominent in Europe in the 1990s, economic policies compared with policies concerning all other areas (employment, income, education, health care, housing, welfare provisions, etc.) showed a trend of unbalanced development in Europe. At the end of the day, the EU made all these policies to a handmaiden of economic policies, which caused a crisis in the general societal development and thus in the socioeconomic dimension of the member states. In the 1990s, some European scholars put forward the SQ theory, originally intending to promote a balanced development of economic policies and all other policies that are oriented on efficiency and benefits. The purpose was and is to win a space for politics and policies that concern social justice, solidarity, equal value, and human dignity: namely, the four normative factors of social quality. Because the dominant focus within the EU was on neoliberal and monetary questions, European society was moving toward a societal policy deadlock. The founders of the social quality approach (SQA) argued that this one-sidedness would not create a citizens’ Europe. The herewith related call for a creative dialogue between policy makers oriented on economic policies and those on other policies to enable acceptable societal circumstances—the sine qua non of a citizens’ Europe—demands a clear focus and a realistic vision that sets also aside the supposed traditional duality between “the economic and the social:” in this case, economic policies and social policies.

The plea for new policies is summarized in the “Amsterdam Declaration on Social Quality,” discussed during the Dutch presidency of the Council of the European Union in June 1997 (IASQ 1997). More than one thousand scientists from all over the EU gave their support. The declaration was presented to the president of the European Parliament in October 1997 (Van der Maesen and Walker 2005), and the SQ theory greatly impressed EU member states immediately. In particular, it produced a positive effect on the European Commission’s policy making, as explained in a double issue of the European Journal of Social Quality dedicated to employment and “flexicurity” in the EU (Nectoux and Van der Maesen 2003). This paved the way for the construction and application of the indicators of the four conditional factors in 14 EU member states with financial support from the European Commission (Gordon 2005). All this work led to a similar interest in Asian and Australian universities. Since 2007, seven international conferences on social quality have been organized in Japan, Thailand, mainland China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. The original European Journal of Social Quality was expanded into the International Journal of Social Quality. These conferences resulted into the elaboration and application of the indicators of the four conditional factors in all these countries based on the original European list but amended to fit the different sociocultural contexts of Asian and Australian countries (Van der Maesen and Walker 2005). According to the working paper on the history of social quality thinking and application (Van der Maesen and Walker 2014: 21):

The huge amount of Asian and Australian work demands an interpretation and comparison at a global level. What are the similarities and differences with the European data on the application of social quality indicators? How to proceed in Asia-Pacific and Europe in order to analyse societal trends in a comparable way, and what can we learn from the recent Asia-Pacific surveys? With this in mind the discussion is started about new strategies for developing further the theory, its methodology and applications.

In recent years, the SQ theory has gradually attracted the attention of more and more representatives of the academic community in China. An increasing number of Chinese scholars have begun their research on SQ theories and policy implementation, and have achieved a wealth of research results, which have great significance for providing references to make policies on social construction, political construction, cultural construction, and other aspects (Cui 2016; Jin 2012; Lin 2010a; H. Xie 2010; Yang and Hongsong 2015; Zhang 2011). Many elements of this research are presented in a recent study about the SQA’s theoretical and methodological aspects (Herrmann and Lin 2015).
Relevant Literature in Foreign Countries
The “Amsterdam Declaration on Social Quality” marked the formation of the European social quality theory (IASQ 1997). According to this declaration:

We do not want to see growing numbers of beggars, tramps and homeless in the cities of Europe. Nor can we countenance a Europe with large numbers of unemployed, growing numbers of poor people and those who have only limited access to health care and services. In contrast, we want a European society that is economically successful, but which, at the same time, promotes justice and participation for its citizens. This would be a Europe in which social quality is paramount.

In the same year, the European Foundation on Social Quality (EFSQ) edited and published its first main book, The Social Quality of Europe (Beck et al. 1997a), in order to present research on the theory, research fields, policy orientation, and other aspects of social quality. In 1999, the European Journal of Social Quality published its first issues and since then has become a major stimulus for social quality research. In 2001, the EFSQ published its second main book about SQ research, Social Quality: A Vision for Europe (Beck et al. 2001), which discussed the definition and theory of social quality, and how to pave the way for comprehensive approaches of policy making and other issues. This book made possible the development and application of social quality indicators. Scholars of various European countries have actively cooperated and exchanged with each other to discuss and conduct empirical research.

According to existing research on social quality, researchers mainly focus on three aspects in their study of SQ theory. First, they discuss the definition of social quality. Wolfgang Beck and colleagues (1997b, 2001) suppose that social quality is an outcome of the dialectic between human beings’ processes of self-realization and the formation of collective identities. It delivers “individuals” dynamic space in their participation of societal life, created for improving their individual life and potential under restrictions from communities and other restrictive conditions. Second, they analyze the relationship between individuals and society. According to Yitzhak Berman and David Phillips (2000), the SQ theory system attempts to truly reflect the quality and level of interactions between individuals and society by comprehensively and systematically constructing theories. Third, they analyze the relationship between social quality systems of indicators. For example, Laurent van der Maesen and Alan Walker (2005) have discussed socioeconomic security indicators; Berman and Phillips (2000, 2004) have studied social cohesion indicators; Francesca Giambona and Erasmo Vassallo (2014) have analyzed social inclusion indicators; and Peter Herrmann (2006) has published many relevant studies on social empowerment indicators. However, the latest research has been focused more on comparisons of societal-based sustainable development and the SQ theory in different countries, which has largely enriched the theoretical connotation and practical significance of social quality (Walker 2009; Yee and Chang 2009).

Relevant Literature in China

In their social quality research, Chinese scholars mainly focus on how to achieve the synchronous development of socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural development, as well as how to constantly improve material living standards and simultaneously strengthen society’s internal cohesion and promote the all-round development of Chinese people. However, there have been various interpretations of the theory itself. Huning Wang (1989: 20) says that “the so-called social quality refers to the nonpolitical ordering degree of a society. And whether the social quality has changes is a key for a society to successfully reorganize its political order.”1 According to Zhongmin Wu (1990:12), “the so-called social quality refers to the sum of all characteristics of a social body that comply with its own specific internal requirements and demands in its operation and development.” Wu (1995) took social quality as an important yardstick to measure whether a society is perfect. In their latest research, Chinese scholars have been adopting the European SQ theory to discuss the theory’s development in China, conduct empirical analyses of China’s social quality situation, and focus more on how to evaluate China’s societal development level in combination with the country’s actual situation.

Ka Lin (2010b) has pointed out that the SQ theory plays a positive role in providing guidance to the practice of building a harmonious society in China, and social quality research should examine the active participation of citizens in sociopolitical and socioeconomic life; the role of citizen groups in promoting social solidarity, social inclusion, and social empowerment; and interrelations of the family, community, and citizen organizations. According to Keqing Han (2010), the SQ theory and the societal development model advocated by the theory create another universal value of the welfare world, so we can take a strategically advantageous to ponder the social welfare system of China and its social development goal. Haidong Zhang and colleagues (2012) have argued that China is still in the infancy of conducting social quality research, so it has not reached a high level of research in this field or made any substantive progress in its localized study of the SQ theory. Cui Yan (2016) has pointed out that Europe’s SQ theory system has a close relationship with China’s social governance innovation, and the SQ theory has some significance for providing reference for the social governance practice. With this in mind, it is worthwhile to note that the second and the third main books about social quality have been translated into Chinese under the lead of scholars at Shanghai University.

Question Identification and Research Innovation

According to literature review, relevant research in foreign countries and China mainly focuses on two aspects. On the one hand, social quality is discussed at the theoretical level. On the other, the four conditional factors of social quality are given equal weight in order to discuss their impact on evaluating society’s overall development level. However, if we indiscriminately copy the SQ theory and research model of foreign countries and ignore the economic and cultural differences between the East and the West, as well as development differences between countries, it would make research results one-sided and unscientific.

We believe that China bears differences from Western countries, including different sociocultural, sociopolitical, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and develops at different stages. As mentioned earlier, this theme has been discussed in the past decade with regard to the differences of the indicators of the four conditional factors relevant in European countries and in Asian countries. Meanwhile, distinguishable social class groups show differences in their cognition about the impact of various conditional factors of social quality on society’s overall development. It is essential to use empirical data to comprehensively analyze the differences in the effects of different conditional factors of social quality on the overall social quality development in order to further enrich the SQ theory system, more comprehensively build SQ evaluation indexes, and provide suggestions for policy making.

Research Problems, Data, and Model

Research Questions

At present, the interest appeals of different social class groups in China have been differentiated along with societal oriented-advancement. And the satisfaction of general demands from different social class groups is closely connected to their social quality evaluation. Only by understanding the changes in new demands of different classes can China better formulate and adjust targeted societal policies and satisfy diversified demand and expectations. According to some scholars, interests of different classes in China have been diversified and complicated, and interest appeals and the friction and conflicts of interests between different classes have become common in Chinese society, thereby resulting in the differentiation of interests of different social class groups. And such differentiation has caused serious damage to social quality (e.g., F. Xie and Chen 2013).

In researching the SQ theory, the academic community has not fully discussed whether different social class groups have differences in their cognition about various conditional factors of social quality. Therefore, this article argues that from the perspective of SQ theory, four conditional factors—socioeconomic security, social cohesion, social inclusion and, social empowerment—have great significance for social quality. But classes differ in their evaluation of the relative importance of these factors. A quantitative data analysis is essential to fully understand the differences in demands and expectations, which will provide a frame of reference for policy making. In this article, the main research question is to find out the differences among various social class groups with regard to their evaluation of society’s overall development from the perspective of the four conditional factors of social quality.

Data

Data from a national questionnaire survey launched by the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2017 is used for this article’s research. The method of multistage, mixed, probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling were adopted, and more than ten thousand urban and rural residents were interviewed. The data collected can well represent the overall situation of China. In this questionnaire survey, social quality is an important module. The current societal development level and development quality of China are evaluated from the perspective of the four conditional factors of social quality. This may provide empirical data for comprehensively analyzing the cognition of each social class group in China.

Variables and Model

In this article, a general linear regression model is used for the research. In this model, the dependent variable is the respondent’s evaluation of the overall societal development level of China, and the measured variable is a continuous variable, with a measurement scale of 1 to 10 points. The independent variables include socioeconomic security, social cohesion, social inclusion, and social empowerment. Socioeconomic security mainly includes the respondent’s income and basic security; social cohesion includes the respondent’s rating of current societal and moral compliance, evaluation of the legal compliance, and evaluation of positive values; variables of social inclusion include the evaluation of social exclusion and of societal discrimination; social empowerment mainly includes willingness to participate in political affairs, willingness to participate in societal affairs, and self-efficacy of participation in political society. The control variables are mainly gender, education level, and household registration. The basic distribution of important variables is shown in Table 1.

In the model, respondents are classified into five social class groups: upper, upper middle, middle, lower middle, and low. We suppose that these classes have different standards for evaluating the quality of society’s overall development and that, with help of this model, we can clarify these differences. Therefore, it is essential to build a regression model for developing the qualitative evaluation of different social class groups and then comparing the direct coefficient of each regression model. However, it should be noted that if a least-squares regression model is built, different social class groups can be seen as independent samples, and each sample has statistically significant representativeness for a fixed class. But some problems are presented when the coefficients of different regression models are compared, because, in the models of this article, we should not only discuss whether the coefficients are significant and compare the samples, but also compare the effect of different independent variables on the dependent variables in different models. This constitutes the problem of coefficient comparisons of different models. If we simply compare the effect of the same independent variable on dependent variables in different modes, we would ignore the issue of whether various assumptions in the parameter estimation are valid, so the simple comparison of the coefficients has no substantial significance.

Table 1Basic Statistics for Model Variables
VariableVariable definitionPercentageVariableVariable definitionPercentage
Note: Mean age = 46.7 | Standard deviation = 14.2
Gender1 Male44.7Subjective self-identified social status1 Upper0.3
0 Female55.3
Education level1 Uneducated10.6
2 Primary school24.32 Upper middle2.7
3 Middle school32.43 Middle30.9
4 High school12.64 Lower middle30.6
5 Technical secondary school4.25 Low35.5
6 Vocational high school0.7Residence type0 Agricultural69.0
7 Junior college6.91 Nonagricultural21.3
8 Undergraduate education7.62 Other9.7
9 Graduate education0.7
Marital status1 Unmarried11.8
2 Married80.5
3 Other7.7
Urban/rural distribution1 Urban residents41.6
2 Rural residents58.4

Meanwhile, if various social class groups are classified into different sample groups and the parameter estimation is made for each group separately, then the correlation between different models would be ignored. In other words, it is all right to make parameter estimations for evaluating the quality of societal development for each social class group separately. However, because different social class groups in the same societal and institutional circumstances are subject to the influence of many of the same factors, making the regression analysis separately would reduce the efficiency of model parameter estimations. To solve the problem of coefficient comparisons between different models, the method of building an interactive item between the core variable and classified variable can be used for a regression analysis. Meanwhile, to solve the problem of the correlation between different models, quasi-irrelevant equations can be established for a correlation analysis.

Analysis

Basic Frequency Analysis

According to the data, 0.3 percent of the survey respondents believe they belong to the upper social class group; 2.7 percent to the upper-middle group; 30.9 percent to the middle group; 30.6 percent to the lower-middle group; and 35.5 percent to the lower group. In addition, the data show that the average value of the public’s overall evaluation in today’s society is 7.017. This value decreases along with the decline of the respondent’s self-cognized position. Specifically, the average value of the overall evaluation by the upper group is 8.167; the corresponding value of the middle group is 7.196; of the lower-middle group, 6.922; and of the lower group, 6.888.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Overall evaluation by each social class group.

Citation: International Journal of Social Quality 8, 1; 10.3167/IJSQ.2018.080104

Analysis Using the Regression Model

Analysis of Overall Data

Overall, the public’s evaluation of the development of the quality of daily circumstances is taken as a dependent variable and the four conditional factors of social quality as dependent variables in order to discuss the effects of different SQ conditional factors on this evaluation. Specifically, the data show that the conditional factors have a statistically significant effect on the quality of the public’s evaluation of overall development. For example, in the conditional factors of socioeconomic security, the higher the public’s evaluation of current old-age security, medical security, and other livelihood security is, the higher the public’s evaluation of the overall development of the quality of daily circumstances would be (b = 0.070; α < 0.001). Similarly, the higher the public’s evaluation of current basic security from government sectors is, the higher the public’s evaluation of overall development would be (b = 0.037; α < 0.05). In the conditional factor of social cohesion, the higher the public’s evaluation of current societal equality is, the higher the public’s evaluation of overall development would be (b = 0.261; α < 0.001), and the higher the public’s evaluation of current trust is, the higher the public’s evaluation of overall development would be (b = 0.191; α < 0.001).

Moreover, the data also show that the effect of the four conditional factors on the public’s evaluation of overall development is statistically significant. For example, in terms of social inclusion, the public’s evaluation of current discrimination is statistically significant for the public’s evaluation of overall development (b = −0.095; α < 0.001). In the dimension of social empowerment, the public’s willingness to participate in politics is also statistically significant (b = 0.152; α < 0.001) for the public’s evaluation of the overall development of the quality of daily circumstances (b = 0.317; α < 0.001).

Regression Analysis of Evaluation by Different Classes

As can be seen from the data, people of the low social class group are mainly focused on the basic economic security in their evaluation and judgment of high-quality society. Specifically with regard to the conditional factor of socioeconomic security, security at different levels has a significant effect on the low group’s overall evaluation. Both livelihood security (e.g., medical security, old-age security) and basic security (e.g., basic housing security, minimum living security in urban and rural areas) are statistically significant (b = 0.149; ρ < 0.001) for the low group’s overall evaluation (b = 0.079; ρ < 0.001). In the conditional factor of social cohesion, the low group’s evaluation of current values has no significant effect on their overall evaluation (b = 0.006; ρ = 0.806). In the conditional factor of social inclusion, the low group’s cognition of tolerance and discrimination produces a significant effect (b = 0.264; ρ < 0.001) on their overall assessment (b = −0.110; ρ < 0.001). And in the conditional factor of social empowerment, the low group’s sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and sociocultural backgrounds and self-efficacy of participation produce no significant impact on their overall evaluation.

Table 2Social Quality Evaluation by the Public
 B coefficientStandard errorT-valueSignificance
Constant term2.7190.14019.4210.000
Socioeconomic security
Logarithmic per capita household income−0.0330.015−2.2000.044
Livelihood security (old-age security, medical security, employment security)0.0700.0174.1180.001
Basic security (minimum living security in urban and rural area, basic housing security)0.0370.0113.3640.004
Social cohesion
Evaluation of values0.0390.0133.0000.009
Evaluation of morality and the rule of law0.2760.01125.0910.000
Evaluation of equality0.2610.02610.0380.000
Evaluation of trust0.1910.01314.6920.000
Social inclusion
Evaluation of tolerance0.2290.01219.0830.000
Evaluation of discrimination−0.0950.019−5.0040.000
Social empowerment
Willingness to participate in affairs0.1520.01212.6670.000
Willingness to participate in political affairs0.3170.00745.2860.000
Self-efficacy to participate in politics    
Internal self-efficacy0.0190.0230.8260.422
External self-efficacy0.0490.0192.5790.021
Control variables
Age0.0280.00214.0000.000
Gender (male: 1)0.2210.0395.6670.000
Urban/rural (urban: 1)−0.2740.045−6.0890.000
Number of years with education0.0490.0124.0830.001
Table 3Coding System of Study II
 B coefficientStandard errorT-valueSignificance
Constant term2.6010.3397.6770.000
Socioeconomic security
Logarithmic per capita household income0.0080.0290.2900.772
Livelihood security (old-age security, medical security, employment security)0.1490.0207.4500.000
Basic security (minimum living security in urban and rural area, basic housing security)0.0790.0194.1580.001
Social cohesion
Evaluation of values0.0060.0230.2460.806
Evaluation of morality and the rule of law0.2810.01815.4350.000
Evaluation of equality0.2370.0465.2010.000
Evaluation of trust0.1790.0237.8850.000
Social inclusion
Evaluation of tolerance0.2640.02211.8550.000
Evaluation of discrimination−0.1100.027−4.0390.000
Social empowerment
Willingness to participate in affairs0.0410.0202.0560.040
Willingness to participate in political affairs0.0280.0780.3530.724
Self-efficacy to participate in politics    
Internal self-efficacy0.0090.0290.3100.761
External self-efficacy0.0110.0370.3040.700
Control variables
Age0.0210.0037.8990.000
Gender (male: 1)0.0920.0621.4830.138
Urban/rural (urban: 1)−0.2500.072−3.4580.001
Number of years with education0.0290.0231.2570.209

In general, the demands and overall evaluation standards of the low social class group demonstrate obvious differences compared with the upper-middle group. The low group is most concerned about socioeconomic security and social inclusion, but social cohesion and social empowerment have no significant effect on the low group’s overall evaluation. Thus, it can be seen that in the overall evaluation, the low group is most concerned about basic livelihood, especially living security. Meanwhile, the low group is a disadvantaged part of the whole society, so it has direct experience with social inclusion and social exclusion. Therefore, social exclusion has a significant effect on the overall evaluation by the low group. From the perspective of social empowerment, although the low group has the same demands for sociopolitical and socioeconomic life as other social class groups, but, owing to its poor socioeconomic position, the low group does not have urgent demands for political and economic (and cultural) participation. Meanwhile, with limited societal resources and participation channels and insufficient awareness of active participation, most people in the low group show little enthusiasm for political and other forms of participation. Most of their sociopolitical and socioeconomic participation is the passive rights-safeguarding action taken in the case of personal rights violation, instead of the active behavior of fighting for rights.

The upper-middle social class group’s overall development evaluation has significant differences from that of the low group. According to the data, the effect of basic socioeconomic security (b = 0.080; ρ = 0.208) on the upper-middle group’s overall evaluation is not significant (b = 0.049; ρ = 0.410). After the upper-middle group reaches an excellent level in its material and economic conditions, material demands are no longer the focus of attention in the evaluation of overall development. However, the data show that social cohesion is an important index for the upper-middle group in its overall evaluation. In particular, the upper-middle group pays high attention to moral compliance, legal compliance, and values-integrating abilities. Correspondingly, the upper-middle group’s evaluation of social inclusion (b = 0.091; ρ = 0.211) has no effect on its overall evaluation (b = −0.056; ρ = 0.118). It is also worth noting that the upper-middle group’s attention and evaluation of social empowerment have a significant effect on its overall evaluation. The data also reveal that compared with societal participation, political participation has a more significant effect on the upper-middle group’s overall evaluation, indicating that, along with the improvement of their material life standards, people of the upper-middle group have shown growing demands for pursuing individual rights, especially political rights. In recent years, with the further progress of China’s market economy, the distribution of resources and structure have undergone substantive changes. After getting huge economic resources, the upper-middle group with rich social resources hopes to gain more speaking rights in the political life. Therefore, the inconsistency between its economic status and political status affects its cognition of the development of the quality of daily circumstances, as well as the degree and pattern of its political participation.

Table 4Evaluation by the Middle Social Class Group
 B coefficientStandard errorT-valueSignificance
Constant term3.2410.4367.4320.000
Socioeconomic security
Logarithmic per capita household income−0.0110.033−0.3420.732
Livelihood security (old-age security, medical security, employment security)0.0800.0631.2650.208
Basic security (minimum living security in urban and rural area, basic housing security)0.0490.0590.8270.410
Social cohesion
Evaluation of values0.0930.0303.1000.007
Evaluation of morality and the rule of law0.2620.02311.1660.000
Evaluation of equality0.6690.1763.8060.000
Evaluation of trust0.1780.0622.8900.004
Social inclusion
Evaluation of tolerance0.0910.0721.2580.211
Evaluation of discrimination−0.0560.036−1.5640.118
Social empowerment
Willingness to participate in affairs0.0520.0124.3330.001
Willingness to participate in political affairs0.3170.02711.7410.000
Self-efficacy to participate in politics    
Internal self-efficacy0.1210.0452.7110.007
External self-efficacy0.1410.0492.8720.004
Control variables
Age0.0090.0033.6180.000
Gender (male: 1)0.1430.0672.1350.033
Urban/rural (urban: 1)0.0630.0780.8000.424
Number of years with education−0.0020.019−0.1090.913

Comparison of Regression Coefficients

According to the data, the low and upper-middle social class groups have some differences in the significance of their regression coefficients. For example, in terms of socioeconomic security, the regression coefficient of the low group to the variable “livelihood security” is 0.149, while the corresponding value of the upper-middle group is 0.080. The difference between the two is 0.069, indicating a statistical significance (p < 0.050). In terms of social cohesion, the regression coefficient of the low group to the variable “evaluation of values” is 0.006, while the corresponding value of the upper-middle group is 0.093. The difference between the two is −0.087, indicating a statistical significance (p < 0.050). In terms of social inclusion, the regression coefficient of the low group to the variable “tolerance” is 0.264, while the corresponding value of the upper-middle group is 0.091. The difference between the two is 0.173, indicating a statistical significance (p < 0.050). In terms of social empowerment, the regression coefficient of the low group to the variable “willing to participate in political affairs” is 0.028, while the corresponding value of the upper-middle group is 0.317. The difference between the two is −0.289, indicating a statistical significance (p < 0.050). The low group and upper-middle group also show the same statistically significant relationship in the variable of “self-efficacy.” Thus, it can be seen that in their overall evaluation, the low group and upper-middle group have a significant difference in the focus of their attention, which reflects the differentiation of demand and expectations by different social class groups in today’s society.

Policy Suggestions

Along with the deepening of reforms and the advancement of economic society, people’s material living standards have been greatly enhanced. Meanwhile, the social class groups have also shown a new differentiation trend. Because of the appearance of different social class groups, interest appeals of the social class groups have been gradually differentiated. The social class groups have some differences in their demands and the satisfaction of the demands. Such differences are a direct cause of the differences in the societal development level and social quality evaluation by different social class groups in today’s society.

For the upper-middle group, the rapid economic growth has largely improved their group size and economic strength. This group has a substantial amount of economic power and resources. After their material demands are satisfied, their individual demands have been gradually transformed into higher-level demands. Therefore, this group is more concerned with the overall progress in culture, morality, and other aspects, as well as the influence that individuals can produce in society, compared with the improvement of their material living standards. In general, after individuals get enough to eat and dress, they will put forward higher requirements for the environment and development levels. On the one hand, the public hopes that society can have greater social cohesion and members can have higher moral standards and greater awareness of being governed by law. On the other hand, because sociopolitical and socioeconomic participation have gradually become an important part of high-quality life, people would use variables “whether rich channels of sociopolitical and socioeconomic participation are provided” and “whether the sociopolitical and socioeconomic participation produce actual results” as important factors for evaluating the current societal development level. Therefore, at the present societal development stage, they hope urgently to gain more political rights and greater societal influence.

Table 5Comparison of the Coefficients
 Social lowSocial upper middleDifference of coefficientsChi2p-value
Socioeconomic security
Livelihood security (old-age security, medical security, employment security)0.1490.0800.0693.7930.051
Basic security (minimum living security in urban and rural area, basic housing security)0.0790.0490.0300.2190.640
Social cohesion
Evaluation of values0.0060.093−0.0874.5720.032
Evaluation of morality and the rule of law0.2810.2620.0190.0390.843
Evaluation of equality0.2370.669−0.4327.3930.007
Evaluation of trust0.1790.1780.0010.0030.956
Social inclusion
Evaluation of tolerance0.2640.0910.1735.8980.015
Evaluation of discrimination−0.110−0.056−0.0541.3790.240
Social empowerment
Willingness to participate in affairs0.0410.052−0.0110.2990.585
Willingness to participate in political affairs0.0280.317−0.2895.1310.024
Self-efficacy to participate in politics     
Internal self-efficacy0.0090.121−0.1123.9820.046
External self-efficacy0.0110.141−0.1304.1280.042

It is particularly noteworthy that political rights and an individual “sense of power and functions” have become important factors in the upper-middle group’s evaluation of societal development and development quality. The upper-middle group has more demands and desires in societal construction, political construction, and other aspects. They hope to get more platforms to participate in the national economic and societal construction. However, in fact, the societal construction in China, to some extent, lags behind economic construction. In the current society, people face a decline in trust and a decrease in the sense of security. In addition, some groups show a weak awareness of being governed by law, and lack values and moral restraints. Because societal construction and political system reform have not been implemented timely, the upper-middle group has failed to largely expand its channels of sociopolitical participation. This has produced a negative effect on the evaluation of the upper-middle group. In the absence of effective sociopolitical participation channels, the upper-middle group in society, to some extent, has shown a sense of “insufficiency of powers and functions” and “political indifference,” which have affected its enthusiasm and initiative for participating in the administration and discussion of state affairs and weakening the foundation for further deepening the political system reform. Therefore, it is necessary to comprehensively improve the societal construction level, expand the effective channels of sociopolitical participation, gradually remove the “sense of incapability” of the upper-middle group in their sociopolitical participation, and give full play to the functions of the upper-middle class as the stabilizer and safety valve.

From the perspective of the upper-middle and low groups, it is still essential to pay attention to the issue of basic livelihood security in today’s society. China should properly improve the level of security while expanding the coverage of security. Moreover, China should accelerate the pace of realizing a high-quality life for people, based on satisfying people’s basic demands of “having enough to eat and wear.” In an era with rapid societal development, the public pays more attention to economic development and material progress but, more importantly, shows more concern about the overall development of society and individuals. After the satisfaction of their demand for food and clothing, all social class groups have gradually begun to pursue a comprehensive improvement of their life quality. The public’s attention has shifted from the continued growth of personal income to the fairness of income distribution, which reflects a great change in indexes of societal development quality evaluation by different social class groups. The existing income distribution system requires further improvement and adjustment, so people of the upper-middle and low groups may develop a sense of deprivation in the income distribution, which would lead to the low evaluation of fairness and equality. Therefore, only by further adjusting the income distribution system and establishing a more effective wealth resource-allocating and -adjusting mechanism can China reduce people’s “sense of relative deprivation” and enhance their sense of equality.

Meanwhile, integration and identity are also main indexes for the upper-middle group and low groups in their SQ evaluation. The upper-middle and low groups, the latter being understood as a relatively disadvantaged group in society, live in daily circumstances with some exclusion and discrimination. “Sense of marginalization” and “sense of alienation” have a significantly negative influence on their overall societal development evaluation. Therefore, China should further eliminate social discrimination, lower the level of exclusion, and promote the “integration” of vulnerable groups. Only in this way can China build an inclusive society with sustainable development, achieve diversity, and reduce conflicts and risks.

In summary, China should first further expand channels for sociopolitical participation and more fully exploit the dynamic role of each social class group in order to better construct socialist democratic politics and more energetically propel the deepening of the political system’s reform. Second, China should further strengthen people’s livelihood security and improve people’s life quality in order for them to a achieve high-quality life based on realizing a full coverage of security. Finally, it is essential for China to deepen the reform of the household registration system, reduce seclusion, and eliminate discrimination, thus comprehensively improving the overall level of social inclusion. In short, only by comprehensively enhancing the public’s self-efficacy of participation, improving the security level, and reducing isolation and exclusion can China get a better overall societal development evaluation from different social class groups. And only by comprehensively upgrading the social quality in various conditional factors can China reach the best balance in interest appeals of different social class groups, thus achieving a balance in welfare and sustainable development and building a high-quality, well-off society.

Note
1

All translations of non-English references are our own unless otherwise indicated.

References

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    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Cui Yan is Associate Professor and Associate Research Fellow of the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He specializes in social quality and social development. Email: cuiyanshky@sina

Huang Yongliang is a PhD student in the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, mainly specializing in social quality and social development. Email: 171337435@qq.com

The International Journal of Social Quality

(formerly The European Journal of Social Quality)

  • BeckW. A.L. J. G. van der Maesen and A. C. Walker. 1997a. The Social Quality of Europe. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

  • BeckW. A.L. J. G. van der Maesen and A. C. Walker. 1997b. “Social Quality: From Issue to Concept.” In Beck et al. 1997: 301302.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BeckW. A.L. J. G. van der MaesenF. Thomése and A. C. Walker. 2001. Social Quality: A Vision for Europe. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BermanY. and D. Phillips. 2000. “Indicators of Social Quality and Social Exclusion at National and Community Level.” Social Indicators Research 50 (3): 329350.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BermanY. and D. Phillips. 2004. “Indicators for Social Cohesion.” Paper submitted to the European Network on Indicators of Social Quality of the European Foundation on Social Quality Amsterdam. https://www.socialquality.org/wp-content/uploads/import/2014/10/Indicators-June-2004.pdf.

    • Export Citation
  • CuiY. 2016. “Social Quality and Social Governance Innovation in China.” [In Chinese.] Guangming Daily18 January.

  • GiambonaF. and E. Vassallo. 2014. “Composite Indicator of Social Inclusion for European Countries.” Social Indicators Research 116 (1): 269293.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GordonD. ed. “Indicators of Social Quality: Application in Fourteen European Countries.” Special issue European Journal of Social Quality 5 (1–2).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HanK. 2010. “The Social Quality Theory: A Literature Review.” [In Chinese.] Soochow Academic 1: 99105.

  • HerrmannP. 2006. “Empowerment: The Core of Social Quality.” European Journal of Social Quality 5 (1–2): 289299.

  • HerrmannP. and K. Lin. 2015. Social Quality Theory: A New Perspective on Social Development. New York: Berghahn Books.

  • IASQ (International Association on Social Quality). 1997. “Amsterdam Declaration on Social Quality.” 10 June. https://socialquality.org/about-iasq/amsterdam-declaration-of-1997.

    • Export Citation
  • JinQ. 2012. “Rethinking Political Participation in the View of Social Quality Theory: Also about Foreign Concepts’ Localization.” [In Chinese.] Social Sciences 8: 6973.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LiP. 2018. “Adhering to Safeguarding and Reforming People’s Livelihood in Development.” [In Chinese.] Qiushi 3: 3741.

  • LinK. 2010a. “Evaluating the Quality of Chinese Society.” [In Chinese.] China Community Newspaper24 May.

  • LinK. 2010b. “Social Quality Theory: A New Perspective of the Studies of Harmonious Society.” [In Chinese.] Journal of Renmin University of China 2: 105109.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NectouxF. and L. J. G. van der Maesen eds. 2003. “Flexibility and Security in Employment.” Special issue European Journal of Social Quality 4 (1–2).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van der MaesenL. J. G. and A. Walker. 2005. “Indicators of Social Quality: Outcomes of the European Scientific Network.” European Journal of Social Quality 5 (1–2): 824.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van der MaesenL. J. G. and A. Walker. 2014. “The Development of Social Quality between 1994 and 2014.” IASQ (International Association on Social Quality) Working Paper Series no. 13. https://www.socialquality.org/wp-content/uploads/import/2014/10/WorkingPaper-132014.pdf.

    • Export Citation
  • WalkerA. 2009. “The Social Quality Approach: Bridging Asia and Europe.” Development and Society 38 (2): 209235.

  • WangH. 1989. “China: Social Quality and New Political Order.” [In Chinese.] Social Sciences 6: 2025.

  • WuZ. 1990. “On Social Quality.” [In Chinese.] Sociological Studies 4: 1224.

  • WuZ. 1995. Chinese Social Development Theory. [In Chinese.] Changsha: Hunan Press.

  • XieF. and C. Lizhen. 2013. “Prevention and Control of Social Class Interests Over-Differentiation.” [In Chinese.] China Management Magazine 5: 406407.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • XieH. 2010. “The Development of China’s Rural Poverty Alleviation under the Guidance of Social Quality Theory.”. [In Chinese.] Social Security Studies 6: 8385.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • YangQ. and Z. Hongsong. 2015. “Analyzing the Localization of Social Quality Theory.” [In Chinese.] Journal of Sichuan University (Social Science Edition) 3: 109113.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • YeeJ. and D. Chang. 2009. “Social Quality as a Measure for Social Progress.” Paper presented at the 3rd OECD World Forum on “Statistics Knowledge and Policy”: Charting Progress Building Visions Improving Life Busan Korea27–30 October.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ZhangH. 2011. “Social Risk Response in the Perspective of Social Quality.” [In Chinese.] Jianghai Academic Journal 3: 114117.

  • ZhangH.H. B. Shi and Y. Q. Bi. 2012. “Social Quality Research and Its Recent Development.” [In Chinese.] Sociological Research 3: 227244.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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