Urban-rural disparities in health care utilization among Chinese adults from 1993 to 2011

Jiajia Li, Leiyu Shi, Hailun Liang, Gan Ding, Lingzhong Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Despite economic growth and improved health outcomes over the past few decades, China still experiences striking urban-rural health inequalities. Urban and rural residents distinguished by the hukou system may experience profound disparities because of institutional effect. The aim of this study is to estimate trends in urban-rural disparities in self-care, outpatient care, and inpatient care utilization from a perspective of the hukou system. Methods: Data were extracted from the seven latest waves of the China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS). We used the hukou system to distinguish between urban and rural residents. Chi-square tests were performed to examine urban-rural gaps in self-care, outpatient care, and inpatient care utilization. Multinomial logistic regression was employed to confirm these disparities and to explore whether the urban-rural gaps have narrowed or widened from 1993 to 2011 once known determinants of utilization are taken into account according to Andersen/Aday's Health Behaviour Model. Results: The urban-rural disparities were evident after controlling for confounding variables: urban adults were 3.24 (p < 0.05), 2.23 (p < 0.1), and 4.77 (p < 0.01) times more likely to choose self-care vs. no care, outpatient care vs. no care, and inpatient care vs. no care than their rural counterparts, respectively. The results showed upward trends in self-care, outpatient care, and inpatient care utilization from 2004 to 2011. The urban-rural gaps in health care utilization gradually narrowed during the period of 1993-2011. The hukou distinctions of self-care, outpatient care, and inpatient care in 2011 were only 33.3%, 35.5%, and 9.6% of that in 1993, respectively. Conclusions: Although rural residents were underutilizing health care when compared to their urban counterparts, the significant decrements in urban-rural disparities reflect the positive effect of the on-going health system reform in China. To maintain an equitable distribution of health care utilization, policy makers need to be aware of challenges due to aging problems and health expenditure increment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102
JournalBMC health services research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 9 2018


  • China
  • Dynamic trends
  • Health care seeking behaviour
  • Hukou system
  • Urban/rural

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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