Vocational Status, Hukou and Housing Migrants in the New Century: Evidence from a Multi-city Study of Housing Inequality


Vocational status and living conditions are key factors that determine the quality of life of workers. In light of a rural–urban migration wave during the past decade, this study examined migrants’ experiences of occupational and housing inequality in major urban centers. Based on data from original household-level surveys conducted in four large cities, the study investigated the vocational and tenurial situations of different social groups. Estimates obtained using a binary logistic model indicated that apart from socioeconomic factors similar to those impacting Western societies, specific institutional factors such as the Hukou system, state-associated vocations, and residential status, were significant determinants of housing inequality. The study confirmed that there were significant disparities in the vocational status and housing conditions of urban residents and migrant workers in major Chinese cities. Along with excessive privatization of urban housing, the predominance of the Hukou urban housing system has created inequalities in employment, and in the housing market, in major Chinese urban centers, leading to housing poverty among migrant households.

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  1. 1.

    The Hukou (household registration) system was promulgated in China through the 1958 Hukou regulation (Hukou dengji tiaoli). Hukou is a system of identification requiring every citizen to be registered at the place of his or her birth, the place to which he or she is permitted to move, or his or her mother’s place of registration. It divides Chinese citizens into two major categories: agricultural and non-agricultural residents. See Guo and Iredale (2004) for a detailed discussion on this subject.

  2. 2.

    Permanent immigrants are individuals who have received official permission to change their registration from their place of origin to their place of relocation. By contrast, temporary migrants are individuals who have not changed their place of registration, even though they are living elsewhere for periods extending from a few days to several days or more (Chan 2010).

  3. 3.

    See the official document of the Government of Offices Administration of the State Council: http://www.ggj.gov.cn/xzsp/200912/t20091230_269559.htm.

  4. 4.

    Over a long period of time extending from the Mao era to present-day China, the Hukou system has been the standard tool for stratifying urban residents. Kam Wing Chan (1996) has described China’s stratified urban structure as a “two-class urban society”.


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The authors would like to thank the financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 71473283), and Beijing Municipal Social Science Foundation (14JGB078).

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Correspondence to Junhua Chen.

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Chen, J., Wu, Y. & Li, H. Vocational Status, Hukou and Housing Migrants in the New Century: Evidence from a Multi-city Study of Housing Inequality. Soc Indic Res 139, 309–325 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1562-z

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  • Migrants
  • Vocational status
  • Hukou
  • Housing inequality
  • China