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Migration reshapes China’s demographic structure

WANG JIWEN | 2018-12-06 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Workers at a factory in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province. Since the reform and opening up, China has seen massive migration. Photo: CFP


 

Since the reform and opening up, China has seen a large-scale migration. According to previous censuses and the Statistical Communiqué on the National Economy and Social Development in 2015, the total migrant population in China increased from 6.7 million in 1982 to 21.35 million in 1990, and then it rapidly increased to 220 million in 2010 and 247 million in 2015.


Though the growth rate of the migrant population has slowed down and stabilized in recent years, its total volume is still huge, and the impact of the migrant population on society and the economy cannot be overlooked. The migrant population in Guangdong Province exceeded 30 million in 2010, the largest in any province. Corresponding with the large population inflow into Guangdong Province and other coastal provinces in the southeast, many provinces have witnessed a population outflow. In either situation, population flow creates both opportunities and challenges.


The data used in this paper is mainly from the population sample survey in 2015, the statistical yearbooks of Guangdong Province, and the censuses in 1982, 1990, 2000 and 2010.

 

Spatial layout
The rate of population growth is the rate of natural increase combined with the effects of migration. In different stages of population development, the effects of birth, death and migration, as the three major factors of population change, are different. Specifically, in the early stages of demographic transition, birth and death rates are dominating factors in population change. In the late stage of demographic transition, the effect of birth and death rates on population change gives way to migration.


Taking Guangdong as an example, the growth of permanent residents can be divided into three stages. From 55 million in 1983 to 86.5 million in 2000, population growth was rapid. From 2000 to 2010, 17.9 million more people came to settle, and population growth slowed down. Between 2010 and 2016, the number increased by 5.6 million, and the population growth rate further slowed down.


In this process, the growth curve of migration is basically consistent with that of the total population, while the natural change caused by new births and deaths has a limited impact on the change of the total population.


In line with the growth of permanent residents, the contribution of migration to the population growth of Guangdong can also be divided into three stages. From 1983 to 2000, the growth rate and contribution of the migrant population as a whole showed an upward trend, and it exceeded natural growth for the first time in 1992. From 2000 to 2010, the contribution of the migrant population to total population growth increased gradually after a short decline. From 2010 to 2013, the growth rate from the migrant population slowed down and even receded. Its overall contribution rate continued to decline until 2014, when it began to pick up.


The effect of migration on population change can be evaluated by simulating the hypothetical situation of no migration flow and comparing it with the de facto population migration. Taking Beijing as an example, the population of Beijing increased by 5.3 million from 1990 to 2000, and by 3.77 million from 2000 to 2010. The impact of the massive migrant population on the local population is huge. In some districts, the migrant population even surpasses local residents.


The spatial distribution of the population is bound to be affected by migration. Since the reform and opening up, China’s population distribution has turned from a state of dispersion to a state of concentration. In the early 1990s, the population was more evenly distributed. With the rapid economic development in the eastern region, population concentration is increasingly evident. The proportion of permanent residents in the eastern region has increased from 37.67 percent in 1990 to 41.46 percent in 2015.


At the same time, the proportion of permanent residents in the central and western regions has kept declining. From 2005 to 2015, the proportion of permanent residents in the central region decreased by 0.83 percentage points, while that in the western region decreased by 1.01 percentage points. It can be seen that migration flows have an important impact on the spatial pattern of China’s population distribution.

 

Gender ratio
The gender structure of the migrant population varies in different periods and regions. The gender ratio has an impact on the destination’s industrial structure, consumption structure and marriage market.


Due to the differences in labor markets and occupational gender preferences, the gender structure of the migrant population in different regions is not exactly the same.
The impact of the migrant population on local gender structure can be evaluated by simulating the hypothetical case of no migration flow and comparing it with the de facto population migration.


Take Beijing and Guangdong Province as example. Migration caused the male-to-female ratio in Beijing to decrease by 0.9 percentage points between 1990 and 2000. From 2000 to 2010, migration caused the male-to-female ratio in Beijing to increase by 0.7 percentage points. From 1990 to 2000, migration caused the male-to-female ratio in Guangdong to decrease by 4.3 percentage points. Between 2000 and 2010, migration increased Guangdong’s male-to-female ratio by 3.6 percentage points. It can be seen that there are differences in the effects of migrant population on gender structure in different regions. Specifically, the impact of migration on the gender structure of Guangdong Province is much greater than that of Beijing’s.


The results also show that the migrant population was mainly composed of women between 1990 and 2000, thus reducing the male-to-female ratio of Beijing and Guangdong Province. From 2000 to 2010, the migrant population was mainly men, thus increasing the male-to-female ratio in Beijing and Guangdong Province.


Therefore, with the development of the economy and the change in the industrial structure, the gender structure of the labor market has also changed. However, over time, the impact of migration on the gender structures of destination cities has been gradually diminishing.

 

Dependency ratio
Population migration is highly selective in terms of age. In general, China’s migrant population is mostly working-age people, especially young and middle-aged workers, whereas the proportion of children and the elderly is relatively small. A large number of migrants have also changed the age structure of their destination cities, affecting the local dependency ratio. The change of dependency ratio not only affects the effective supply of labor, but also affects the pension and medical security system.


Due to the differences in population and socio-economic characteristics in different regions, the age structure of the migrant population it attracts varies. The difference of the age structure of the migrant population is bound to have different effects on the dependency ratio in different areas.


The impact of migration on the age structure and dependency ratio of the destination area can be evaluated by simulating the hypothetical case of no migration flow and comparing it with the de facto population migration.


Taking Beijing as an example, during the period from 1990 to 2000, migration resulted in a decrease of 4.9 percentage points in the proportion of dependent children in Beijing and a rise of 1.1 percentage points in the proportion of dependent elderly. From 2000 to 2010, migration resulted in a decrease of 0.6 percentage points in the dependency ratio of children in Beijing and 4.7 percentage points in the dependency ratio of the elderly. The dependency ratio of the elderly has shifted from rising to falling, indicating that the inflow of population into Beijing has more youths.


During the period from 1990 to 2000, migration led to a decrease of 1.9 percentage points in the dependency ratio of children and 2.8 percentage points in the dependency ratio of the elderly in Guangdong Province. From 2000 to 2010, migration led to a rise of 0.8 percentage points in the dependency ratio of children of Guangdong Province and a decline of 0.8 percentage points in the dependency ratio of the elderly. Between 2010 and 2015, changes in migration resulted in a 3 percentage point increase in the dependency ratio of children and a 0.3 percentage point increase in the dependency ratio of the elderly in Guangdong Province.


As inflow destinations, Beijing and Guangdong Province have seen completely opposite influences by migration on their local dependency ratios, which is closely related to the demographic transition of both cities and even the whole country.


As the frontier of reform and opening up, Guangdong Province was the first place to attract migration. With the gradual maturity of its market economy and its aging population, Guangdong’s labor market is also aging. This suggests that developed regions’ current practice of relying on migrants to mitigate population aging may not be sustainable in the future.
Therefore, to solve the problem, it is necessary not only to adopt measures to attract talent but also to build a service system for care of the elderly and to proactively carry out scientific and technological innovation.


The mass migration of the population over the past 40 years is an important manifestation of China’s modernization. Migration has not only replaced the traditional factors of population growth, but also changed the total population volume and structure between regions, which has had a great impact on economic and social development.


As birth and death rates tend to be stable in China, migration naturally becomes the decisive factor in the trends of population change. Population flow has regularity and tendencies in its direction. Every major population change is accompanied by major social change and relevant policy planning.


Therefore, the government and research units need to explore the rules of migration and the problems and obstacles in the process of migration flows to ensure that the effects of policy arrangements are maximized for long-term socioeconomic development.


 
Wang Jiwen is from the Population Development Studies Center at Renmin University of China.

(edited by YANG XUE)