Skip to content
CSDE News & Events

New Research by Yang and Chan Examines China’s Unique Migration Patterns Related to Age

Posted: 11/17/2023 (CSDE Research)

CSDE Affiliate Dr. Kam Wing Chan (Geography) and former CSDE trainee Dr. Xiaxia Yang (postdoc at King’s College, London) have co-authored a new publication in Eurasian Geography and Economics titled “Forever young: China’s migration regime and age patterns.” The paper argues that the Chinese institutional arrangements, particularly the household registration (hukou) system, hinder the long-term settlement of internal migrants by restricting their access to urban social benefits. The article introduces a new method that primarily utilizes census age data to evaluate the success of migrant settlement by establishing connections between migrant “flow” and “stock.” The authors argue that migrants’ challenges in settling primarily stem from two sources: difficulties in maintaining family togetherness among migrants and impediments to the long-term residence of the migrants themselves.

To compare China’s internal migration with that of other countries, the authors developed age-related indices for both internal and international migration. The results reveal a distinct “China difference” in migration age patterns. Child and elderly dependents of China’s migrant workers are discouraged from migrating, and aging migrants tend to return to their places of origin rather than settling in the destinations. Consequently, the age profiles of China’s internal migrant flow and stock closely resemble each other, differing significantly from the more typical age profiles observed in other countries such as India (see graphs).

The analysis underscores the many barriers faced by most internal migrants in China in achieving family togetherness and establishing long-term residence in their destinations, most of which are big cities. China’s unique migrant labor regime involves continuously “recycling” temporary young migrant workers, ensuring that destination workforces remain “forever young,” which helps to reduce the labor costs of Chinese goods in global markets. The age-based “mobile-to-settled” transition framework and the settlement rate index of migrants, as developed in the paper, also hold general relevance for examining settlement chances in internal and international migrations beyond China.


Read Full Article