Physical health, school performance and delinquency: A comparative study of left-behind and non-left-behind children in rural China

Xiaohong Jin, Wei Chen, Ivan Y. Sun, Lin Liu - Child Abuse & Neglect



China’s rapid economic development since the late 1970s has resulted in a large-scale migrant population from rural to urban areas, with millions of Chinese children being left behind at home by their parents who migrated to city for work.


The primary objective of this study is to test the effects of family, school and background characteristics on left-behind children’s (LBC) and non-left-behind children’s (NLBC) physical health, school performance, and delinquent behavior.


A total of 765 LBC and 468 NLBC in elementary and middle schools participated in the study.


Survey data were collected from three middle schools and seven elementary schools in Wuhan, China.


The dependent variables included three measures of child development: physical health, school performance and delinquent behavior. The independent and control variables were divided into four groups: school and community attachment, parental attachment, parental and children commitment, and background characteristics. Mean comparisons and regression analyses were conducted to assess whether LBC and NLBC differ in their physical health, academic performance and delinquent behavior.


LBC’s physical health is significantly lower than that of NLBC. Being a LBC decreases the odds of being healthy by 51 percent. LBC and NLBC do not differ in their school performance and delinquent behavior.


Being left behind without proper parental care appears to be detrimental to child physical wellbeing. The damaging impact of left-behind is limited to physical health as LBC and NLBC reported similar levels of educational performance and delinquent acts.