Volume 44, Number 172,
January-March 2013
Migration and Exclusion in China:
the Hukou System
Gabriela Correa and René Núñez

Relaxing control on population mobility by making the hukou system more flexible has increased domestic migration in China, but differences in the type of employment, income and access to services remain strong between urban and rural zones, and are the main factors that have driven migration.

Data regarding this topic varies; some authors, such as Xiaoming Li, estimate that nearly 114 million people, representing 23% of the labor force, are rural migrants (Xiaoming Li, et al., 2006: 17). Data from the 2010 Population Census indicates that 261 million people have lived for more than six months in a place outside of their registered locale, of which 40 million currently have a residence that is not where they are registered, but is still in the same province or municipality. This would mean that 221 million people have migrated to cities in a different province than their registration, making migration between provinces the most relevant in terms of type of migration (People’s Republic of China, National Bureau of Statistics, 2011: 2).

The chance for better employment has led millions of people to move from central zones to the country’s coastal regions. The phenomenon of migration in China is unique, as short-term moves tend to be young, single people with minimum high-school education, while long-term changes tend to be families where the heads of household have basic levels of education (Fan, 2008: 69).

Looking at figures for migrants characterized by the type of registration, it is understandable that the government is worried about meeting needs related to social welfare and inequality, which has been expressed since 2005. As a public policy, inequality is part of the perspective known as “The Scientific Approach to Development,” which is also called the “search for economic, social and external well-being in China,” and has been included as part of their five-year plans. The official report on the results of 2012 states that efforts to improve welfare have meant improvements in urban income that reached up to 21,810 yuan, while rural income was 6,977 yuan and it was 2,049 yuan for rural migrant laborers (People’s Republic of China, 2012: 8).

Data regarding comparisons between 2002 and 2007 from a sample of nearly 30,000 observations taken from 9 provinces and 7 cities2 (Zhaopeng Qu and Zhao, 2001: 13 and ss.) indicate that migrants tend to be younger (28 years), more women (16%) and with secondary education (49%). They mainly work in manufacturing, sales, restaurants and hotels (52%) and in self-employment (34%), while 58% stay in the same labor position for as long as possible. They have greater previous experience than past groups of migrants (97%) and the duration of the migration is greater than one year for 24%, from one to five years for 58% and 18% migrate for more than 6 years. Regarding income, the average monthly salary is 1,410 yuan and the hourly salary is 5.5 yuan.

Another source of data for 2009 from a migration survey conducted by the Australian National University (Tao Kong et al., 2010: 242 and ss.) includes 8,000 observations, and reports that migrants have on average 7.5 years of education, while 5% are illiterate, 18% have completed primary school and 77% have finished secondary education. Regarding incomes, they report 1,820 yuan per month, 1,631 for salaried workers and 2,297 for the self-employed.

Regarding social coverage protection, the participation in minimum urban insurance stands out with 68% for health services, 12% for unemployment insurance and 21% in pension funds.

The data presented here illustrates some of the problems that migrants have in accessing public services and social security, in particular, public housing, as well as the lack of transfers of retirement contributions between provinces. It should be emphasized that there is still inequality in accessing education, health, housing and retirement services as part of the public policies that determine the population’s welfare.

In educational terms, the central government has committed to ensuring a minimum of nine years of schooling. The children of migrants and even migrants themselves have increased their levels of education, as the figures show a greater number of migrants that finish secondary studies. However, local citizens have also increased their levels of education, by gradually gaining access to higher learning. In other words, even though migrants have seen educational improvement, there is still a gap with local workers.

If education is considered as the key factor for economic development, it is time to take another look at the proposals of the Theory of Human Capital and the Capabilities Approach. In terms of the Theory of Human Capital, by limiting access to higher levels of public education, the hukou system prevents the children of migrants from reaching better living conditions, as long as higher levels of education do not translate to better employment and better income.

2 Provinces: Hebei, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Henan, Hubei, Guangdong, Chonqing and Sichuan. Cities: Wuxi, Hefei, Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Chonqing and Chengdu.

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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