Chinese migrants seek more stability in new homes

Current crop more likely to bring families along as they move to the cities, but face alienation when they get there, government report finds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 3:53am

The new generation of migrant workers is younger, moving farther from home and craves a more stable life in the big cities, a national health commission report has found.

They are also more likely to move to cities as a family, are more politically aware, but also feel alienated and, in some cases, resentful towards local residents who are entitled to more social welfare and rights under the household registration, or hukou, system.

The "Development Report on China's Migrant Population 2013" released yesterday said the changing demographics and social and political demands of younger migrants required public policies that allowed them to enjoy the fruits of urban development and more equal opportunity for future growth.

The country's migrant population numbered 236 million last year, meaning that one-sixth of the total population had moved from their permanent registered homes to work or study elsewhere.

The average age of this "new generation", as the report calls them, is 28. More than half of them were born after 1980, and three-quarters left home before they were 20.

"They do not simply leave their hometowns to make money. They are seeking development in multiple ways," said Wang Qian, director of the floating population division of the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

"The new generation of migrant workers seeks more from urban life and their awareness of political participation is increasing. In summary, they have a stronger wish to be assimilated into the cities."

Unlike their parents' generation who left home alone and returned after earning some money, this new generation is bringing the whole family to their new homes, Wang said. "All our [policymaking] should be based this trend," he said.

Half of the younger migrants were married and nearly all of them lived with the core members of their families - couples often moved first and brought their children with them later.

"Such patterns are detrimental to family stability and emotional health," the report said. "It's also bad for child development, but the current policies are more focused on labour provided by individuals, not families. Young migrants still face challenges."

More than 70 per cent of migrants live in rented flats or dormitories, which are not only small but lack basic facilities, such as kitchens, toilets and running water, the report said.

Migrant children generally can attend public primary and middle schools but are barred from public kindergartens because of limited resources. Most are barred from sitting for local university entrance exams.

The report also hinted at further problems ahead, noting that, as a result of the hukou system, migrants face difficulty participating in local social and political life in the cities, which diminished their sense of belonging.

"There are greater risks to social harmony and stability in areas where migrants outnumber household residents, and the prospects of aligning their interests are not good," it said.