The China Paradox of Migrant Labor Shortage Amidst Surplus Rural Laborers: An Alternative View

  • Chen ChenEmail author
Part of the GeoJournal Library book series (GEJL, volume 122)


Historical-structural perspectives dominate the current conversation on the China paradox of the simultaneous existence of a migrant labor shortage and surplus rural laborers. This article aims to add an alternative view that looks at the efforts of individuals and households to overcome structural development constraints through their choices to remain in rural areas, out-migrate, or settle down in destination cities. Contextualized in China’s unique interregional rural-to-urban migration, the empirical inquiries are motivated by two theoretical arguments: the household livelihood diversification, and the life course perspective. Using national-level household survey data, this research adopts ordinal logistic regression models to test how the age cohorts of laborers affect the reasons why individuals choose either to remain in major rural migrant-sending areas, to out-migrate as a circular migrant worker, or to settle in major migrant-receiving areas. The preliminary findings explain the lower relative average age of migrant workers as being significantly influenced by older migrants’ greater emphasis on household and place-based assets, rather than simply being a result of risk-sharing income-generating behaviors among family members. Further, the research argues that the role of local off-farm work in migrant-sending areas and housing conditions in migrant-receiving areas are curtailing further rural-urban migration, regardless of age. This finding is important for policy-makers who wish to attract more rural laborers to urban areas or to turn temporary migration into permanent settlement as proposed by China’s New-type Urbanization Program.


Migrant labor shortage Urbanization Rural-to-urban migration Migration intention Settlement intention 



This work was supported by Chinese Scholarship Council under Grant <No. 201206260001> and Tongji Architectural Design (TJAD). I would like to thank Professor Min Zhao (Tongji University), Theodore C. Lim (University of Pennsylvania), and Professor Bo Qin (Ren Min University) and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an early draft of this article. Any remaining error is the responsibility of the author.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Urban PlanningCollege of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji UniversityShanghaiChina

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