Mental health of migrant workers in China: prevalence and correlates

  • Daniel Fu Keung WongEmail author
  • Xuesong He
  • Grace Leung
  • Ying Lau
  • Yingli Chang



This study aimed to examine the prevalence and the socio-demographic correlates of mental health of migrant workers in Shanghai China.


A total of 475 migrant workers from four major districts in Shanghai were recruited through a survey design with stratified random sampling. Male and female migrant workers were identified as mentally healthy or unhealthy using the brief symptom inventory. Socio-demographic characteristics and migration stress were explored as correlates of the mental health of the migrant workers.


A total of 73 migrant workers could be classified as mentally unhealthy (25% for men and 6% for women). Male migrant workers who were married (OR 6.16, 95% CI 1.83–20.70), manual laborers (OR 1.56, 95% CI 0.97–2.51), and experienced more stress in “financial and employment-related difficulties” (OR 2.75, 95% CI 1.47–5.14) and “interpersonal tensions and conflicts” (OR 4.18, 95% CI 1.55–11.25) were more likely to be mentally unhealthy, whereas the female migrant workers who experienced more stress in “interpersonal tensions and conflicts” (OR 6.52, 95% CI 0.83–51.14) were more likely to have poor mental health.


The findings provide information for the prevention of mental illness among migrant workers in China. The implications and limitations are also discussed.

Key words

mental health migrant workers migrant stress China 


  1. 1.
    Bhugra D (2004) Migration and mental health. Acta Psychiatr Scand 109:243–258PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cheng D, Leong F (1993) Cultural differences in psychological distress between Asian and Caucasian American college students. J Multicult Couns Devel 21:182–198Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Davin D (2000) Migrants and the media: concerns about rural migration in the Chinese press. In: West LA, Zhao YH (eds) Rural labor flows in China. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, pp 278–291Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Derogatis L, Melisaratos N (1983) The brief symptom inventory: an introductory report. Psychol Med 13:595–605PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Du Y (2000) Rural labor migration in contemporary China: an analysis of its features and the macro context. In: West LA, Zhao YH (eds) Rural labor flows in China. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, pp 67–100Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Feng W, Zuo XJ, Ruan DC (2002) Rural migrants in Shanghai: living under the shadow of socialism. Int Migr Rev 36:520–545Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Fleisher BM, Yang DT (2003) Labor law and regulations in China. China Econ Rev 14:426–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Fu LP, Ye Y, Chen QL (2002) A preliminary study on anxiety of the 82 rural laborers in town. J Guizhou Norm Univ (Nat Sci) 20:103–106 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Guo XH (2004) Reflections caused by “Premier Wen Jiabao helped a peasant in demanding payment of salary”. Explor Free Views 1:20–22 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hosmer DW, Lemershow S (2000) Applied logistic regression. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hui CH, Tan CK (1996) Employee motivation and attitudes in the Chinese workforce. In: Bond MH (ed) The handbook of Chinese psychology, Oxford University Press, Hong Kong, pp 364–378Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Knight J, Song L, Jia HB (1999) Chinese rural migrants in urban enterprises: three perspectives. J Dev Stud 35:73–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Li XF (2004) A study of the mental health status of youth laborers working on a public project. Chin J Health Psychol 12:468–469 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Liu DJ (2004) Legal rights not protected—primary issues among 6 problems facing migrant workers. From Xinhua Net, February 26, 2004. Retrieved July 4, 2005. (in Chinese)
  15. 15.
    National Security Council (2004) National population survey of temporary residents in China. Renmin University Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Papadopoulos I, Lees S, Lay M, Gebrehiwot A (2004) Ethiopian refugees in the UK: migration, adaptation and settlement experiences and their relevance to health. Ethn Health 9:55–73PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Phillips MR, Pearson V, Li FF, Xu MJ, Yang L (2002) Stigma and expressed emotion: a study of people with schizophrenia and their family members in China. Br J Psychiatry 181:488–493PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ritsner M, Ponizovsky A, Kurs R, Modia I (2000) Somatization in an immigrant population in Israel: a community survey of prevalence, risk factors and help-seeking behavior. Am J Psychiatry 157:385–392PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Roberts KD (2000) Chinese labour migration: insights from Mexican undocumented migration to the United States. In: West LA, Zhao YH (eds) Rural labor flows in China. Institute of East Asian Studies. University of California, Berkeley, pp 179–230Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Rogers J, Ward C (1993) Expectation–experience discrepancies and psychological adjustment during cross-cultural re-entry. Int J Intercult Relat 1:185–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Santos SJ, Bohon LM, Sanchez-Sosa JJ (1998) Childhood family relationships, marital and work conflicts, and mental health distress in Mexican immigrants. J Community Psychol 26:491–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Scott WA, Scott R (1982) Ethnicity, interpersonal relations and adaptation among families of European migrants to Australia. Aust Psychol 17:165–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Shen JF, Huang YF (2003) The working and living space of the ‘floating population’ in China. Asia Pac Viewp 44:51–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Shen QI, Lu YW, Hu CY, Deng XM, Gao H, Huang XQ, Niu EH (1998) A preliminary study of the mental health of young migrant workers in Shenzhen. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 52(suppl): 370–373Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    State Council (2004) Gazette of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. April, 2004, People’s Republic of China (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    State Statistical Bureau (2001) New characteristics of Chinese rural migrants in 2000. Retrieved July 2, 2005. (in Chinese)
  27. 27.
    Tan S (2000) The relationship between foreign enterprises, local governments, and women migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta. In: West LA, Zhao YH (eds) Rural labor flows in China. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, pp 292–309Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Thompson S, Hartel G, Manderson L, Woelz-Stirling N, Kelaher M (2002) The mental health status of Filipinas in Queensland. Aust NZ J Psychiatry 36:674–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Vedder P, Virta E (2005) Language, ethnic identity, and adaptation of Turkish immigrant youth in the Netherlands and Sweden. Int J Intercult Relat 29:317–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Vega BR, Canas F, Bayon C, Franco B, Salvador M, Graell M (1996) Interpersonal factors in female depression. Eur J Psychiatry 10:6–24Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Wang YP, Murie A (2000) Social and spatial implications of housing reform in China. Int J Urban Reg Res 24:397–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Wong FKD, Lam OBD, Yan P, Hung M (2004) The impacts of acculturative stress and social competence on the mental health of mainland Chinese immigrant youth in Hong Kong. Br J Soc Work 34:1009–1024CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Wong FKD (2008) Rural migrant works in urban China: living a marginalized life. Int J Soc Welf USA (in press)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Wong FKD, Lee DCM (2003) China blue collar workers: work stress, coping and mental health. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Social Work and Social Administration. The University of Hong Kong, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Wong FKD, Yan P, Lo E, Hung M (2003) Mental health and social competence of mainland Chinese immigrant and local youth in Hong Kong: a comparison. J Ethic Cult Divers Soc Work 112:85–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Xinhua News Agency (2004) China has nearly 10 percent school drop-outs among migrant children. November 6, 2004. Electronic file retrieved December 29, 2004 from InfoTrac (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Yeh CJ, Arora AK, Inose M, Okubo Y, Li RH, Greene P (2003) The cultural adjustment and mental health of Japanese immigrant youth. Adolescence 38:481–500PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Yu DX, Hu XY (1998) The road ahead: analysis of the phenomena of Chinese migrant workers. Economic Science Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Zhang L (2002) Marital conflicts in dual-earner families in Beijing: a gender perspective. Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Zhang KH, Song SF (2003) Rural–urban migration and urbanization in China: evidence from time-series and cross-section analysis. China Econ Rev 14:386–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Zhao SK (2000) Organizational characteristics of rural labor mobility in China. In: West LA, Zhao YH (eds) Rural labor flows in China. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, pp 231–250Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Fu Keung Wong
    • 1
    Email author
  • Xuesong He
    • 3
  • Grace Leung
    • 2
  • Ying Lau
    • 2
  • Yingli Chang
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Nursing and Social Work, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health SciencesThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Dept. of Social Work and Social AdministrationUniversity of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong
  3. 3.Dept. of Social WorkEast China University of Science and TechnologyShanghaiChina

Personalised recommendations