A 10-percent sample tabulation of census questionnaires from the 1982 census provided badly needed statistical data on China's working population and allowed the first reliable estimates of the labor force's size and characteristics. The quality of the data was considered to be quite high, although a 40-million-person discrepancy existed between the 10-percent sample and the regular employment statistics. This discrepancy can be explained by the combination of inaccurate employment statistics and varying methods of calculation and scope of coverage. The estimated mid-1982 labor force was 546 million, or approximately 54 percent of the total population. Males accounted for slightly more than half of the estimated labor force, and the labor force participation rates for persons age fifteen years and older were among the highest in the world.
The 10-percent sample showed that approximately three-fourths of the labor force worked in the agricultural sector. According to the State Statistical Bureau, in the mid-1980s more than 120 million people worked in the nonagricultural sector. The sample revealed that men occupied the great majority of leadership positions. The average worker was a youthful thirty-three years old, and three out of every four workers were under forty-five years of age. The working population had a low education level. Less than 40 percent of the labor force had more than a primary school education, and 30 percent were illiterate or semiliterate.
In mid-1982 the overall unemployment rate was estimated to be about 5 percent. Of the approximately 25 million unemployed, 12 million were men and 13 million were women. The unemployment rate was highest in the northeast and lowest in the south. The unemployment rates were higher than those of East Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific island countries for which data were available but were lower than the rates found in North America and Europe. Virtually all of the unemployed persons in cities and towns were under twenty years of age.
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