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Data shows new trends of the migrant population

WANG PEIGANG | 2021-08-12 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The percentages of men and women in the entire migrant population in China, and the male-female ratio from 2009 to 2018 based on the China Migrants Dynamic Survey (CMDS) Photo: PROVIDED TO CSST 

The movement of population has accelerated information, capital, and cultural flows, quickening the pace of urbanization. This article sheds light on dynamic features and basic laws of the internal migration population in China in recent years from such perspectives as population amount, age structure, gender ratio, educational distribution, family size, and residing preferences. It is based on data of the period 2009-2018 from the China Migrants Dynamic Survey (CMDS), an annual sample survey of the migrant population conducted by the National Health Commission, and the 2020 Seventh National Population Census headed by the State Council. 

Expanding size
Data shows that the Chinese migrant, or floating, population has continued to expand, bringing into being a situation of massive internal migration and flow. Concurrently, the problem of the separation of registered and actual residences is becoming prominent. 
An analysis of CMDS statistics reveals that the total migrant population first grew and then shrank during the period from 2009 to 2018. Specifically, the migrant population kept swelling for seven years in a row, up from 211 million in 2009 to 247 million in 2015. Thereafter, the size remained largely unchanged, and then dwindled to 241 million in 2018. 
According to the seventh population census, the floating population hit 376 million in 2020, accounting for 26.64% of the total Chinese population. The size was far larger than expected. Among others, trans-provincial migrants numbered 125 million, while the number of people migrating within provinces reached 251 million, highlighting tendencies towards local and nearby urbanization and short-distance migration. 
The rapid growth of the migrant population has posed a series of challenges to the management of household registration, or hukou, and social governance at the primary level. How to establish a public service system suited to the massive population flow and the separation of registered and actual residences has become a serious issue. 
Rising average age
According to the CMDS, the average age of the migrant population was on the rise, with the number of floating seniors increasing steadily. However, younger generations of migrants born after 1980 constituted the major force of migration. 
CMDS data shows that the average age of migrants rose from 27.3 years old in 2009 to 30.7 in 2017. Against the backdrop of an ageing population, the increase of migrating seniors aged 60 and above was noticeable. The share of the elderly in the migrant population soared from 0.5% in 2013 to 3.8% in 2017. 
Moreover, the share of young people in the entire floating population continued to grow, up from 51.0% in 2009 to 68.1% in 2017. As the backbone of industrial labor and the mainstay of new urban residents, most young migrants reported an unwillingness to return to the countryside. The consequent exodus of the rural work force and lack of young labor in the countryside have become grim problems for the national rural vitalization drive. For their part, this new generation of migrants faces the difficulty of social integration, as well as long-term residence, survival and development in cities.    
Increasing females
Data also reveals growing shares of floating women in the total migrant population and a tendency to equilibrium in the sex ratio.
With constant social and economic development, great changes have taken place to the gender structure of the Chinese population. More and more women are participating in population flow and social production. 
The proportion of female migrants in the total migrant population started to go up from 2012, and arrived at 48.5% in 2018. Generally, from 2009 to 2018, the sex ratio of the Chinese floating population was stable, fluctuating between 100 and 112 men for every 100 women. However, compared with 2009, the share of female migrants fell slightly in 2018 while that of men recorded an uptick. The overall sex ratio increased to some extent. 
Improving educational levels
The CMDS indicates that Chinese migrants’ degree of education improved gradually, particularly among non-rural hukou holders and young migrants, thanks to the government’s attention to and investment in the education sphere in recent years. 
In 2010, the educational attainment of migrants was primarily junior high, accounting for more than 40% of the total floating population, yet in 2015, 45.3% of the migrant population received an education of senior high and above. The share of migrants with a degree of junior college and above also rose quickly.   
According to the 2017 CMDS, the migrant population’s average years of education was 9.6, and the figure for young migrants reached 10.2 years, much longer than the average schooling years of 8.7 among elder generations of migrants. 
Decreasing singles
Across the nation, there has been a growing single population, but single migrants have been decreasing, even though men outnumber women in the migrant population.
Recent years have seen the marriage rate falling persistently, while the divorce rate has risen mildly, leading to a swelling single population. When it comes to the solo status of migrants, the single rate of male migrants has been higher than that of their female counterparts. Statistics indicate, however, that overall trends in the number of single men and women in the migrant population were basically identical. 
From 2009 to 2013, the single rates of male and female migrants both showed an upward trend. In 2013, the single rate of male migrants reached 46%, while the figure for female migrants stood at 39.6%. Thereafter the rates began to decline sharply. In 2014, the single rates of male and female migrants registered 27.4% and 20.6%, respectively, far lower than the 2009 levels. The downward trends didn’t stop. In 2017, the single rate of floating men decreased to 17.3%, and that of women dropped to 14.2%. 
Noticeable family-based migration
According to the seventh population census, the average family size shrank from 3.10 members in 2010 to 2.62 in 2020, reflecting a new normal of smaller families. In this context, family-based migration has become increasingly notable. 
CMDS data shows that the rate of one-person migration dipped year by year, down from 26% in 2012 to 18.4% in 2017. The rate of migrating families with a size of more than three members had exceeded 50% in 2013, and hit 53.5% in 2017. 
Increasing family-based migration suggests deeper social integration of the floating population, as well as enhanced inclusiveness and openness in cities. This will also require cities to continually beef up the supervision over the quality and effectiveness of the expanded public service system, covering education, healthcare, elderly care, and housing, in order to ensure the expansion of urban functions meets the needs of a growing migrant population. 
Weakening residing willingness
CMDS data shows that the individual average monthly income of the migrant population grew conspicuously during the period 2009-2018, from 2,376 yuan in 2009 to 4,872 yuan in 2017. Nonetheless this is still lower than the average level of 6,193 yuan for employees nationwide that year. Further analysis reveals that the Gini coefficient of the whole migrant population jumped from 0.25 in 2011 to 0.35 in 2017, hinting at a widening income gap among migrants. 
In the last five years, housing prices and rent in many top destination cities doubled, but the income growth of the migrant population failed to keep up with these increases.
According to the CMDS, migrants’ average monthly income grew 8.19% year on year in 2017, yet the average sales price of residences skyrocketed by 12.21% at the national level. Especially, new properties in developed first-tier cities like Shanghai reached an average deal price of 42,992 yuan per square meter, up 22.2% from 2016. 
With mounting living costs, the share of migrants who are willing to reside permanently in cities decreased from 41.5% in 2015 to 36.6% in 2018. Cost consciousness was typically strongest in big cities, and megacities in particular. 
Rural-to-urban flows predominant
From 2009 to 2018, approximately half of the floating population migrated across provinces. However, after 2012, population flows within provinces, including cities and counties, became a dominant trend. In 2020, about 251 million people migrated within provinces, nearly doubling from 127 million in 2010. The increase was far larger than that of 16.5 million from 2000 to 2010. 
The seventh census shows that migrants moving from rural to urban areas accounted for 52.2%, 63.2%, and 66.3% of the entire floating population in 2000, 2010, and 2020, respectively. The finding indicates that rural-to-urban migration was predominant in the national migration wave. 
It is worth noting that the population migrating from city to city also registered a big-range growth of 35 million from 2010. This gives a warning that the mechanism driving migration will change profoundly when the rural population shrinks too much to provide labor for cities.  
Wang Peigang is a professor and director of the Center for Population and Health Research at Wuhan University.