Journal of Labor Research

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 296–331 | Cite as

Transformations in China’s Internal Labor Migration and Hukou System

  • Mark Colas
  • Suqin GeEmail author


This paper examines China’s changing internal labor migration patterns between 1990 and 2005 as its household registration (hukou) system evolves. We document a drastic increase in the size of the migrant population, along with significant composition shifts in migrants’ characteristics, and geographic and employment distributions. Recent migrants are on average older, more educated, more likely to be female, more likely to be married, and more likely to have an urban hukou. Regression analysis shows that migration rates increased substantially during this period for all individuals regardless of their education, gender, age, marital or hukou status. By employing a simple migration location choice model, we investigate the relationship between hukou policy and migration behavior. We find that larger and more developed cities are more attractive to migrants but tend to set more stringent hukou restrictions. Rural migrants are significantly more deterred by hukou restrictions relative to urban migrants. These findings suggest that institutional factors, such as the hukou system, are important for understanding the observed patterns in China’s labor migration.


Labor migration Hukou China 



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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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