Inter-county migration in China - mostly rural migrants moving to urban areas - increased four-fold during the 1990s, from just over 20 million in 1990 to 79 million by 2000. With what effect?
Co-authors Alan de Brauw from the International Food Policy Research Institute and Michigan State University's John Giles examine the impacts this great tide of migration has had on China's rural villages. Their paper, Migrant Labor Markets and the Welfare of Rural Households in the Developing World: Evidence from China (PDF), finds that rural out-migration has boosted per capita consumption and reduced inequality:
We find that increased migration from rural villages leads to signicant increases in consumption per capita, and that this effect is stronger for poorer households within villages. Household income per capita and non-durable consumption per capita both increase with out-migration, and increase more for poorer households.
Villages with the fastest growth in out-migration have seen the largest reductions in village poverty headcount and the strongest growth in average consumption levels. Out-migration has also reduced inequality - "expanded migration is associated with decreasing inequality within villages", as poorer households "supply more labor to productive activities and experience more rapid income growth".
There are mixed effects on rural investment - new earnings from urban jobs have largely been spent on better homes and durable goods:
A second important finding relates to the impact of migration on investment in rural areas. Increases in migration from rural China are associated with increased accumulation of housing wealth and consumer durables, but we do not find evidence of a significant relationship between migration and investment in productive assets.
While none of these findings are particularly unexepected, they help unpack China's economic story. And they show that it is not just international migration that brings benefits.