Samantha Vortherms, Ph.D.

University of California, Irvine

Country: United States (California)

About Me:

My research focuses on comparative political economy, development, and social welfare. My current book project, Between the Center and the People: Localized Citizenship in China, examines sub-national variation in access to citizenship rights in China. From 2014-2016, I was a Visiting Research Fellow at the National School of Development's China Center for Health Economics Research at Peking University.My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education through the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad, and the Social Science Research Council's Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship, among others.Before completing my Ph.D., I received my M.A. in International Relations at the University of Chicago, A.M. in Public Policy from University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy, and a B.A. from the University of Richmond.Before completing my Ph.D., I received my M.A. in International Relations at the University of Chicago, A.M. in Public Policy from University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy, and a B.A. from the University of Richmond.

Research Interests

Asian Politics

Political Economy

Comparative Political Institutions

Immigration & Citizenship


Research Methods & Research Design

Countries of Interest



Journal Articles:

(2019) Disaggregating China's Political Budget Cycles: `Righting' the U, World Development

What impact does spending time horizon have on political budget cycles? While traditional political budget cycles increase visible spending with immediate gains before political turnover, I hypothesize that spending in categories with less-immediate gains categories increases when opportunity costs are lower. In this article, I build on existing literature on budget cycles in both democracies and non-democracies to disaggregate types of budget cycles: those with long-run versus short-run benefits. In China, after central-level reforms, welfare targets, with long-run gains, became visible to local leaders' constituents, the central leaders above them. Local leaders then had an incentive to provide welfare, but only when it was the least costly in terms of opportunity costs. Using fixed-effects models panel data from China's 333 municipalities for 1994-2012, I find welfare spending minimizes both relatively and absolutely around year three, and maximizes at the beginning and end of a politician's tenure, when opportunity costs and probability of political advancement are lowest. These cycles are the most dramatic in western provinces, where education is a particularly important tool for ideological spread. Health and Social Security spending also see expansion at the end of mayor's tenures, although the cycles are less pronounced than in education spending. This study expands the literature on political budget cycles by disaggregating government spending and considering the impact of timeliness on cycles.

(2019) China's Missing Children: Political Barriers to Citizenship through the Household Registration System, The China Quarterly

Approximately 13 million Chinese lack hukou, the formal household registration. This prevents them from claiming full citizenship rights, including social welfare, formal identity documents and employment in the state sector. The government blames birth planning policies for the unregistered population, but this explanation ignores the role of internal migration. Because citizenship rights are locally determined and the hukou system is locally managed, migrants face significant barriers to registering their children. This article systematically analyses the political determinants of the unregistered population nationwide. Based on a logit analysis of a sample of 2.5 million children from the 2000 census, I find that children born in violation of the one-child policy do have lower rates of registration and that children born to migrant mothers are four times more likely to be unregistered than registered. Continuing government focus on the effect of birth planning ignores the more fundamental institutional barriers inherent in the hukou system. 中国人口中大约有 1300 万人没有户口,属于户籍制度外人口。户口的缺失意味着权利的缺失。户籍制度外人口无法享受社会福利,无法申办身份证, 也不能在国有部门就业。政府官方对此的解释是违反计划生育政策是户口缺失的首要原因,但是这一解释忽略了流动人口因素的影响。由于公民权利以及户口制度是由当地政府管理, 外来流动人口往往不能给子女在当地上户口。本文对户口缺失的政治决定因素进行了系统的分析研究。根据对 2000 年人口普查中 250 万儿童的样本进行 logit 分析,本文作者发现违计划生育政策的超生儿童的户口登记率偏低。在流动人口儿童中,没有户口儿童是有户口儿童的四倍。在户口缺失这一问题上,政府仅仅对计划生育政策的影响加以关注,而忽略了户口制度本身所固有的制度性障碍。

(2017) China's Health Reform Update: A Review of Policies, Evidence, and Outlooks, Annual Review of Public Health

China experienced both economic and epistemological transitions within the last few decades, greatly increasing demand for accessible and affordable healthcare. These shifts put significant pressure on the outdated, highly-centralized bureaucratic system. Adjusting to growing demands, the government pursued a new round of health reforms since the late 2000s, with central tasks of reforming healthcare financing, essential drug policies, and public hospitals. Healthcare financing reform led to universal basic medical insurance, while the public hospital reform experienced more complex measures ranging from changes in regulatory, operational, and service delivery settings to personnel management. This paper reviews these major policy changes and the literature-based evidence of these reforms effect on cost, access, and quality of care. It then highlights the outlook for future reforms. We argue that a better understanding of the unintended consequences of reform policies and how the interests of practitioners and patients can be better aligned is essential for the success of reforms.

Book Chapters:

(2015) Localized Citizenships: Household Registration as an Internal Citizenship Institution, Lexington Books

This chapter explores the ways in which the China's household registration system (hukou) acts as a sub-national localized citizenship regime and in which ways it does not. While scholars have long recognized the relationship between hukou and citizenship, most focus on the urban areas and do not consider the hukou system as a whole with rural hukou holders entitled to rural citizenship rights. After defining localized citizenship, this chapter explores the development of China’s modern day hukou institution and the gradual localization of state-society relations. I then explore how the hukou defines local citizenship from the four key elements defining citizenship: rights, responsibilities, identity, and membership. Finally, I conclude with a discussion of the reforms of the 2000s and early 2010s and how the reforms are likely to weaken some aspects of localized citizenship while strengthening others.