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Urban migrants, elderly both face population issues

By Gao Ying, Zhang Xiulan | 2016-09-12
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


The chart above illustrates marriage trends of Beijing population in the decade from 2004 to 2013. Migrants constituted an important component of Beijing population and their numbers grew steadily from 2004 to 2013. Meanwhile, the number of local men and women who began their first marriage during that time continued to decline. (Source: Beijing marriage registration statistics (2004-2013))


Metropolitan areas are the product of urbanization and development in the economy and society. But the high density and population explosions inevitably cause a series of problems related to transportation, accommodation and employment. Controlling population size has been the primary task for city planners in recent years.

At present, most studies on the populations of China’s megacities have emphasized population number and scale for effective strategies to control population, or focus on a specific aspect of population structure.


Migrant population
One commonality of all the studies is that they all have noted the impact of migrant populations on metropolitan development. But these studies define migrant populations in a relatively ambiguous way and fail to pay enough attention to the diversity and features of population structure. They also lack detailed comparisons and analyses on the basis of accurate statistics.

Using Beijing as a case study, insight can be gained about metropolitan population features, tendencies and potential influences through using big data, including Beijing demographics collected in the sixth national census of 2010, annual local census statistics collected 2000 as well as Beijing marriage registration statistics collected from 2004 to 2013.

The surge in the metropolitan populations is mainly attributed to the flow of migrants. Starting in the 1990s, Beijing’s population has seen slow natural growth coupled with rapid growth driven by immigration. Beijing’s population achieved record-breaking growth annually during the opening decade of the 21st century and as of 2014, it totaled 21.5 million, 38 percent of which were new immigrants. The changes in Beijing’s population from 2000 to 2014 show that the number of Beijing hukou holders—whose households are registered in Beijing—is stable, while the amount of migrants has changed consistently with resident population. Therefore, the increase in the number of migrants has become the key to Beijing’s large population.

Beijing residents who got married for the first time in the past decade generally fall into three categories: locals whose households remain registered in Beijing, migrant hukou holders and migrants without a hukou. A great majority of people in the city who got married for the first time from 2004 to 2013 are migrants.

Most people get married in their prime, and they constitute an important component of Beijing’s population. Marriage is closely related to residence. Structural characteristics of the new migrant generation will greatly impact Beijing’s future population structure and development.

Beijing categorized its 18 districts and counties into four functional zones in early 2015 in order to reduce the population size of central areas through industrial layout adjustment, thus scattering people within a larger area. This article studies the distribution of household registration location in the four functional zones respectively in 2004, 2009 and 2013 and the study subjects include registered residents, migrants as well as the locals who have just begun their first marriage.


Demographic features
From the perspective of sequential variation, the distribution of their household registration location tends to become more scattered and fewer people are registered in the core functional zone. Though a large number of people have moved to the suburbs, people who have just begun first marriage are still clustered in the functional areas and urban development zones. Most of them live in Xicheng, Chaoyang and Haidian districts, which respectively have the  best financial, commercial and educational resources.


Presently, the population pressure in central districts has not been eased because the areas have excellent resources in terms of education, medical care, social services, culture and commerce, making them much more attractive than the suburbs.

Education level is a key indicator of regional population quality. The study compares the educational backgrounds of people who began their first marriage after 2004 and the population at a similar age in Beijing.

The education level of people aged between 20 and 44 reflects the overall situation in Beijing. The education level of people who began their first marriage in the last decade or so tends to be higher. Among them, 96 percent of men and 98 percent of women have a bachelor’s degree. To be more specific, migrants without a hukou who marry other migrant hukou holders tend to have a much higher educational background than those who marry locals, according to marriage registration statistics.

Vocational classifications are closely related to education level. The population who began their first marriage tends to have a higher professional level than the surveyed population in Beijing. Migrant hukou holders in cities tend to enjoy higher social status because 70 percent of them work as administrators of government departments and professionals. By contrast, migrants without a hukou tend to engage in blue-collar jobs. But the study also found that among the people who have just begun first marriage, temporary migrants who marry other migrants with a hukou tend to have a better job than those who marry migrants without a hukou when it comes to social status.


Potential influences
According to the 2014 Beijing census, Beijing’s elderly people aged 60 or older account for 14 percent of the resident population and 21 percent of the city’s hukou holders, showing that the problem of population aging is becoming more pronounced.


Research on the age structure of the Beijing population has revealed that influx of young migrants has delayed the problems that could result from population aging.

The introduction of young workers promotes industrial development by increasing the labor pool. The ratio of workers to retirees thus improves, creating equilibrium.

In recent years, population aging has been attributed to declining fertility and death rates as well as rising life expectancy. In fact, scholars may overlook the problem of population aging altogether if they only focus on the expansion of the labor pool.

A rough estimate on the basis of marriage statistics found that about 1 million couples began their first marriage since 2004, and 40 percent of spouses are locals. As a result, providing for the migrant parents in Beijing has become a thorny subject.

Those surveyed are the first generation of single-child households in China, which means that two senior citizens may follow one migrant hukou holder in Beijing. In this way, a total of roughly 1.8 million elderly people may have migrated to Beijing since 2004.

In the near future, the influx of labor will help to raise the quality of Beijing’s population while heading off any problems posed by population aging. But in the long run, migrant parents will have more demands from daily expenses and medical care. At the same time, proportion of senior citizens will increase in the age structure of Beijing population. 

In the future, the diverse and aging population structure will require multiple social services. It is important to deal with the controversy among population structure optimization, population size control and increasing demand on social services.

Relevant departments should pay attention to the characteristics of metropolitan population structure and keep in touch with the changes. At the same time, they should release policies to anticipate potential problems, thus fueling healthy development of diverse population structure.

Gao Ying and Zhang Xiulan, associate professor and professor, respectively, School of Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University.