The lasting impact of parental migration on children’s education and health outcomes: The case of China

Zai Liang & Feinuo Sun - Demographic Research


BACKGROUND Recent years have witnessed a surge in studies that examine the education and health consequences of parental migration on children. Most studies focus on the short-term consequences and there is an urgent need to study the long-term consequences.

OBJECTIVE Capitalizing on a unique survey in China, we aim to study the lasting educational and health consequences of parental migration on children.

METHODS We measure respondents’ experiences of being left behind during different stages of life, namely prior to elementary school, during elementary school, and during middle school. Among people who have experienced being left behind, we further classify the experience into several categories such as left behind with grandparents and left behind with others. We estimate a variety of regression models taking into account respondents’ different living arrangements when growing up.

RESULTS We find that being left behind with grandparents during the elementary school stage compromises educational attainment. Individuals who were left behind with others during primary school were more likely to have poor self-rated and mental health at the time of the survey. The long-term educational and health consequences of parental migration raise new concerns for today’s left-behind children.

CONCLUSIONS We show that parental migration, especially during elementary school years, is likely to have long term consequences for children’s educational and health outcomes.