Dissertation Abstracts

Development, Environment Inequalities and Health Disparities in China: A Multilevel Analysis

Author: Hao, Jianmei , hao.jianmei@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: University of Utah, USA
Supervisor: Michael Timberlake & Ming Wen
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Globalization , Environmental Inequality , Health Disparities , China
Areas of Research: Comparative Sociology , Environment and Society , Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change


There is a burgeoning debate about development, environment, and health in China in response to the increasing frequency and severity of environmental disruptions since 2000. The intersection of development, environment inequalities and health disparities has been extensively examined in ecology economics, environmental sociology, medical sociology and epidemiology in the contexts of United States and Europe. However, few empirical studies were conducted to focus on environmental inequality and regional disparities of well-being in a rapidly developing social setting. As the most populous country in the world, China is currently undergoing remarkable economic growth and dramatic social demographic changes through globalization, industrialization, and urbanization. Meanwhile, notable economic development posed serious environmental and health challenges at an unprecedented scale within the country and even across the borders. Cross-national comparative sociology always takes China, as a whole, as the unit of analysis. But as a nation geographically larger than the US, the disparities of economic development disproportionally have impact on environmental disruptions and health outcomes at a region, province, city, community and even individual level. Hence, contrary to previous research, this study is to present the dynamic relationships among development, environment and health within China over time and across regions.

Theoretically, globalization, industrialization, and urbanization are not only viewed as the systematic causes of severe environmental disruptions, but also accompany with increasing health problems.
Although a large number of previous studies, theoretically and empirically, exclusively focused on the relationship among development, environment and health, the environmental and health implications of development is highly polarized and inconclusive. It’s well established economic development and environment protection are not mutually exclusive but interdependent worldwide. However, as national policy, giving top priority to economy over environment is pervasive. More importantly, substantial evidence shows that rapid economic growth in most developing countries is at the cost of environmental degradation. Early empirical studies predicted the relationship between economic development and environment degradation is not linear but inverted-U shape. Yet, most of empirical studies have found inverted-U shape based on the data set from developed countries, scant evidences have confirmed the inverted-U shape in developing countries due to a lack of representative data. So far the relationship between economic development and environment is not well understood in developing countries. In addition, other significant factors (e.g., income inequality, globalization, urbanization, and industrialization), aside from national income level, are significantly correlated with environment degradation in a nation or region. As for health concerns, some studies posit that development and health are interrelated. According to CDC (Center of Disease Control and Prevention) of U.S. Department of Health, health disparities are determined by social, demographic, environmental, and geographic attributes. To my knowledge, this study is the first to present the dynamic relationships among economic development, environmental inequality and health disparities within China across regions and through time from the comparative perspective of economy, environmental sociology, and public health.

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