Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 1007–1034 | Cite as

Quality of migrant schools in China: evidence from a longitudinal study in Shanghai

  • Yuanyuan Chen
  • Shuaizhang FengEmail author
Original Paper


As spaces in public schools are limited, a substantial number of migrant children living in Chinese cities but without local hukou are enrolled in private migrant schools. This paper studies the quality of migrant schools using data collected in Shanghai in 2010 and 2012. Although students in migrant schools perform considerably worse than their counterparts in public schools, the test score difference in mathematics has almost been halved between 2010 and 2012, due to increased financial subsidy from the government. We rule out alternative explanations for the convergence in test scores. We also conduct a falsification test and find no relative changes in the performance of migrant school students based on a follow-up survey of a new cohort of students in 2015 and 2016, a period with no changes in financial subsidies to migrant schools.


Rural-to-urban migration Hukou Migrant school School quality Financial subsidy 

JEL Classification

I21 I22 I28 



The authors would like to thank the anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. We thank Jimmy Chan and seminar participants at Peking University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University, and the 8th Asian Conference on Applied Eonomics/Econometrics for their valuable comments. All errors are our own.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


Feng’s research is supported by the Program for Innovative Research Team of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (2014110310), the National Science Foundation of China (70803029), The National Science Foundation for distinguished young scholars (project number: 71425005), the Chang Jiang Scholars Program (project number: T2012069), and the Program for New Century Excellent Talents in University (NCET-12-0903) sponsored by the Ministry of Education of China. Chen’s research is supported by the National Science Foundation of China (71303149), the Program for Innovative Research Team of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (2014110310), and the Shanghai Soong Ching Ling Foundation (Lu Jiaxian and Gao Wenying Special Fundation). We also acknowledge partial financial support from the CUHK International Development Fund and the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) on a project “Migration with and without children: Causes and Economic, Social and Psychological Consequences.”


  1. Chan KW, Buckingham W (2008) Is China abolishing the hukou system?. China Q 195(1):582–605Google Scholar
  2. Chen YP, Liang Z (2009) Educational attainment of migrant children: the forgotten story of China’s urbanization. Education and Reform in China, edited by Emily Hannum and Albert Park:117–130Google Scholar
  3. Chen Y, Feng S (2013) Access to public schools and the education of migrant children in China. China Econ Rev 26:75–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Coleman JS, Campbell EQ, Hobson CJ, McPartland J, Mood AM, Weinfeld FD, York RL (1966) Equality of educational opportunity Washington DC: US Government Printing OfficeGoogle Scholar
  5. Fitzgerald J, Gottschalk P, Robert M (1998) An analysis of sample attrition in panel data: the Michigan panel study of income dynamics. J Hum Resour 33(2):251–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Goodburn C (2009) Learning from migrant education: a case study of the schooling of rural migrant children in Beijing. Int J Educ Dev 29(5):495–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Goodburn C (2015) Migrant girls in Shenzhen: gender, education and the urbanization of aspiration. China Q 222:320–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Han J (2004) Survey report on the state of compulsory education among migrant children in Beijing. Chin Educ Soc (in Chinese) 37(5):29–55Google Scholar
  9. Hanushek EA (1986) The economics of schooling: production and efficiency in public schools. J Econ Lit 24(3):1141–1177Google Scholar
  10. Hanushek EA (2008) Education production functions. In: Durlauf SN, Blume LE (eds) The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, BasingstokeGoogle Scholar
  11. Kanbur R, Zhang X (2005) Fifty years of regional inequality in China: a journey through central planning, reform, and openness. Rev Dev Econ 9(1):87–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kwong J (2004) Educating migrant children: negotiations between the state and civil society. China Q 180:1073–1088CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lai F, Sadoulet E, De Janvry A (2011) The contributions of school quality and teacher qualifications to student performance evidence from a natural experiment in Beijing middle schools. J Hum Resour 46(1):123–153Google Scholar
  14. Lai F, Liu C, Luo R, Zhang L, Ma X, Bai Y, Sharbono B, Rozelle S (2014) The education of China’s migrant children: the missing link in China’s education system. Int J Educ Dev 37:68–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Liang Z, Chen YP (2007) The educational consequences of migration for children in China. Soc Sci Res 36(1):28–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lu S, Zhang S (2001) Education of migrant children: report from survey of migrant schools in Beijing. Strateg Manag (in Chinese) 4:95–108Google Scholar
  17. Lu Y, Zhou H (2013) Academic achievement and loneliness of migrant children in China: school segregation and segmented assimilation. Comp Educ Rev 57(1):85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. NBS (2012) Tabulation on the 2010 population census of Peoples Republic of China (Book I, Book II, Book III). compiled by Population Census Office under the State Council, Department of Population and Employment Statistics, National Bureau of Statistics, ChinaGoogle Scholar
  19. Rivkin SG, Hanushek EA, Kain JF (2005) Teachers, schools, and academic achievement. Econometrica 73(2):417–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Tang X (2008) The compulsory education of migrant children in Shanghai: status, problems and policies. Internal Report, Shanghai Bureau of Education (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  21. Todd PE, Wolpin KI (2007) The production of cognitive achievement in children: home, school, and racial test score gaps. J Hum Cap 1(1):91–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tooley J, Bao Y, Dixon P, Merrifield J (2011) School choice and academic performance: some evidence from developing countries. Journal of School Choice 5(1):1–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Xiong Y (2015) The broken ladder: why education provides no upward mobility for migrant children in China. China Q 221:161–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Zhang X (2006) Fiscal decentralization and political centralization in China: implications for growth and inequality. J Comp Econ 34(4):713–726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Zhou H (2006) Discussion and policy implication of psychological status of migrant children. Popul. Econ. (in Chinese) 1:48–54Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EconomicsShanghai University of Finance and EconomicsShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Institute for Economic and Social ResearchJinan UniversityGuangzhouChina

Personalised recommendations