China’s 'New Generation' Rural-Urban Migrants: Migration Motivation and Migration Patterns

Migration Information Source, 2012.

23 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2012 Last revised: 11 Jul 2012

See all articles by Xiaochu Hu

Xiaochu Hu

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)

Date Written: January 2, 2012


The majority of China’s roughly 145 million rural-urban migrants were born after 1980, making this population the “new generation” of internal migrant workers. Having been directly influenced by China’s rapid economic growth and recent socio-demographic policy changes, this cohort of rural-urban migrants have different migration motivations compared to their father’s generation, and demonstrate interesting migration patterns. The paper provides a systematic and comprehensive understanding of the new generation migrants as it reveals the young migrants’ social goals, expectations, employment choices, and sociocultural integration in cities.

This research uses in-depth interview data collected in December 2006 and February 2007 in Guangzhou City and Bozhou rural areas. The first part of this research examines the primary migration motivation and reasons for migrants to relocate or change jobs. A variety of non-economic migration reasons were found, which expresses distinct new-generation characteristics such as being tired of school, being attracted by the city life or exploring the world. In terms of relocation and changing job reasons, intolerance of over-loaded jobs and adverse working conditions were frequently cited by the young migrants. They were also found to strategically change jobs to align with personal and career interests, which used to be a luxury for rural-urban migrants. The second part of the research explores a typology of the new generation migrants according to the social migration patterns: Career Builders, Family Helpers, Emotional Explorers and Lost Followers, with stories and quotes from each prototype. Then, the paper discusses how young migrants transfer from one type to another as they stay in the cities longer.

A version of this paper appeared in the Migration Information Source, the online journal of the Migration Policy Institute (Washington DC in January 2012).

Keywords: China, rural-to-urban migration, internal migration, new-generation migrants, post 1980, migration motivation

JEL Classification: R23, J61, O15, O53

Suggested Citation

Hu, Xiaochu, China’s 'New Generation' Rural-Urban Migrants: Migration Motivation and Migration Patterns (January 2, 2012). Migration Information Source, 2012. , Available at SSRN: or

Xiaochu Hu (Contact Author)

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) ( email )

United States

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