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Internal Migrant Children And Left-behind Children In China

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This essay explained two major reasons for China’s internal migration. Firstly, the immature rural infrastructure brings higher costs and inconvenience to local residents, which gives people more incentive to migrate to cities to enjoy a convenient life. From both the perspective of those who need to start a business or labor, there are higher wages and profit in the cities than in the countryside due to the more centralized talent reserve and efficient utilization of resources.


There are continuous debates regarding whether the flow of population from rural areas to urban areas is beneficial or disruptive to families and the whole society. Some critics argue that the labor forces that go into the cities are not well-educated (Niu et al.) and so might not be beneficial for the cities’ civic development. However, due to the low fertility rate in first-tier cities, migrant workers are needed to build infrastructure, supplement labor force shortages, and support the rapid development of cities (Pǎun). “The real GDP effect of migration is larger, and larger than the gains in welfare as migrant workers are now, on average, higher productivity” (Tombe 58). Tombe argues that the benefits of internal trade outweigh the costs and this migration is necessary and important for urban development. Furthermore, the migration flow helps the transform from the agricultural industry to other industries like the service industry (Tombe 56), which increased the number of jobs and wages.

Except for the impact on society, there are both advantages and side effects that migration brings to each family. Generally speaking, the purpose for young people to migrate is to make more profit to support their families (Cao and Liu), so other members of their families, especially children, are easier to be affected. These children are divided into two categories in migrant families: the first category is migrant children, categorizing these children who migrate to urban areas with their parents, and the other category is left-behind children who are left behind in rural areas without the company of parents (Guo et al.). Both of the two categories of children have problems with education and mental health.

First of all, migrant children and left-behind children share less time with their parents and get less care from parents because their parents are workers in the city who are generally engaged in heavy labor and long hours of work (Tong). The choice of migrating to work gives the opportunity for people in rural areas to have more financial support on their families (Chan). However, the separation of children and parents at the expense of their parents’ company with their children. Most of the left-behind children were raised by grandparents, and these children were more likely to be mentally ill because the large age gap between the two generations made grandparents pay attention to children’s physical health rather than mental health or unable to tutor (Jia). As a result, the left-behind children had worse mental health than the non-left-behind children caused by “loneliness, depression, and social anxiety” (Jia et al. 778). While children are still developing their minds, value, and character, they may encounter some mental diseases (Jia). In addition to the impact on personalities, the mental illness also disrupts children’s school attendance, which might “delay their cognitive and physical development and lead to lifelong disadvantages (Case et al. 2005).

From the research conducted by Cao Yang in Beijing, migrant children can get little help when they are experiencing difficulties, and the “Cronbach’s alpha was 0.74 based on a 4-point scale (0 = none help to 4 = a lot)” (Cao et al. 463). From the economic perspective, parents of migrant children have a higher number of children in each family and lower wages compared to urban families. The average household in Beijing was 2.45 persons, while the average number of children in migrant families was 2.24 (Cao et al. 473), which means that there was one more child on average in migrant families. One more child in each family means that the family needs more money and time to raise children. Also, these households gained an income of CNY 4,247 each month, and this number was less than the urban households’ income in Chinese eastern cities (Cao et al. 465). As both of the local families and migrant families both live in cities, they are facing the same consumption level, which is higher than the rural areas, but migrant workers often have one more child, which requires more funds to ensure that children grow up in the city with the same quality. On the other hand, the wages of migrant workers are lower than those of ordinary citizens due to their low education level and the jobs which consist of manual work. This gap leads to lower quality education, health care, and family environment for migrant children in urban areas.

The issue of education among migrant children was not treated seriously by the government and public, but as more and more migrants arrived in the 1980s started to give birth to their children in these cities, and as a result, the issue of migrant children’s education problem was severe over time (Liang et al.). There were over 20 million children between 6 years old to 14 years old in non-Hukou migrants (Chen et al. 3). Moreover, due to the restriction of household registration, the Hukou Policy, and the education system, it is hard for the children of migrant workers to attend urban public schools. Since the Chinese government offered the financial support for the funding of the “free and compulsory 9-year education” separately by local administrations, educational funding in urban areas is usually not accessible for migrant children because their financial resources are left in the countryside (Chen et al. 3).

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Chen and Feng state that “access to public schools is the key factor determining the quality of education that migrant children receive” (Chen et al. 1). In cities, schools catering to the children of migrant workers are mostly privately run, and even if there is a private migrant school, the parents can hardly afford the high cost (Xu et al.). These private migrant schools have relatively poor teaching quality that cannot be compared with that of urban schools or even schools in rural areas. For example, the private migrant schools’ requirement to children is limited to physical well-being but not extended to academic areas, and there are little responsibility and communication between teachers and children because most teachers are temporary workers (Xiong). From students’ perspective, migrant children in public schools had better test scores in Chinese and Mathematics than children in private migrant schools; From parents’ perspective, 45% of parents stated that they were “satisfied” with their children studying in public schools, while 22% parents selected satisfied with education in migrant schools, and over half of the migrant parents states that their children didn’t get a better education in migrant schools than in local schools in hometown (Chen et al. 13). It is obvious that students in public schools can receive better education, and there is a big difference in teaching and student quality between migrant schools and public schools in urban areas.

Through the research conducted by Liang and Chen, for migrant children in urban areas, their “cognitive ability was higher than those of nonmigrants by 29% of standard deviation; time spent on homework is longer by 6.2%, and their health is better by more than 22% of a standard deviation” (Xu et al. 709). However, Xu found out that the educational aspiration of migrant children is lower for 10% and their confidence about the future is 16% lower than the nonmigrants. Admittedly, there is a benefit for migrant children to attend public schools in urban areas, but for these children who are still growing, the absence of parents or the potential discrimination and abuse in big cities would lead to mental health problems (Cao). The schools in cities also have negative impacts on migrant children because while they are being treated as inferior by the local citizens around them, they will realize that they actually have less chance of upward mobility because of “extreme social and institutional exclusion in cities” (Xu et al. 22). Due to the Hukou system, the children of migrant workers are not treated fairly by the education system and the political system, and cannot receive a good education like other children who are able to attend the public schools with low costs in the city. Because these children are lack of elementary education, their lifetime welfare might be affected, and society would “face negative externalities due to increased poverty and a possible rise in crime” (Chen et al. 6).


This essay divided the issues encountered by migrant families into two aspects: the psychological problem due to the separation of the family and low quality of education due to the unequal distribution of education resources in cities. The solutions and policies discussed will be expanded around these two major problems among migrant families. From the economic policy’s perspective, the government should set more policies to stimulate rural development and urbanization based on the different characteristics and advantages of different regions. While many young immigrants aim to earn more profit and create better material conditions for the family, if their hometown’s industry and economy are well developed, these young people might choose to stay with their family and save the extra expenses in the city (Cao and Liu).

To be specific, both the cooperation with huge cities and the development and innovation of advantageous local industries are necessary and important for rural areas’ development (Feiock). For example, Feiock described a collaborative develop method used in the Yangtze River Delta. The rural regions’ governments around big cities in the Yangtze River delta created a “regional economy by sharing tourism resources: a tourism marketing strategy on advertisements and promotions” (Feiock 23). These policies, which encourage connection between urban and rural areas, promote the development of tourism in the whole Yangtze River Delta region by publicizing the previously unknown tourist attractions.

Similarly, in the north of China, Hebei Province’s transformation from industry to service industry has promoted urbanization and improved the air quality of rural areas: Hebei had many seaports and large potential to develop tourism, but the lack of social services and massive industrial emissions limited the development and urbanization (Feiock). After the establishment of “Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Collaboration Policy” which emphasizes “green energy research”, the tourism industry, and the complementary relationship of three cities was put to full use (Feiock 25).

In addition, the development of coastal rural areas was slow before the construction of convergence and fusion structural mode in 2012; the essence of the model is to first develop the local economy and logistics industry simultaneously, and achieve the mutual promotion between industry and economy (Zhao et al. 310). Good transportation conditions enabled the products produced in the rural coastal areas to be sold more efficiently, and better local economy and industrial development promoted the development of the logistics industry. After that, the economic development of coastal areas was used to drive the economic development of other inland rural areas by forming a logistics chain and then an industrial chain (Zhao et al.). These examples use the power of government policies to draw the attention of society to these undeveloped areas, so that the advantages o0.。f rural areas can be displayed and utilized to bring good economic benefits. Rural economic development can fundamentally alleviate the situation of rural-urban migration and separation of family by creating job opportunities in their hometown.

On the other hand, although technology development in China has helped to solve the psychological problems of migrant children by narrowing the distance between parents and children (Tong et al.), the efforts are needed to reduce inequalities in education and mental illness resulting from discrimination between society and schools. Because migration became more and more prevalent in the past several decades, these migrant children are more likely to perceive that they are actually not special cases, and their mental strength and physical health would, in turn, be improved (Tong et al.). As the issue is being noticed by the public, “schools, local governments, and voluntary organizations” designed many programs to help these children; And as the rapid development of communication technologies in recent decades, cellphones and the internet, which were absent in rural areas in the 1990s, enable the migrant parents to contact and caring their left-behind children (Tong et al. 567). Although there is an essential difference between calling and meeting, compared with the past, the distance between parents and children has indeed been closer, and the mental status of children has improved subsequently.

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Internal Migrant Children And Left-behind Children In China. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from
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