Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Left-Behind Villages, Left-Behind Children: Migration and Child Health and Development in Rural China
by Xie, Wubin, Dr.P.H., The George Washington University, 2019, 157; 13420478
Abstract (Summary)

The massive migration of rural labor to urban areas in China over the past few decades has created the largest labor flow in world history. The proportion of the residential population in rural areas decreased from 80% in the late 1970s to 44% in 2016. Due to institutional and practical constraints, whole family migration is often not feasible for most migrant families. As a result, 61 million children age 0-17 are estimated to be left behind in rural communities by at least one parent seeking employment elsewhere. These numbers reflect a major change in the family and community environment in which children are cared for. Parental migration brings about changes in family structure and dynamics, entails a trade-off between economic benefits and parenting inputs, such as parental supervision and emotional support. At community-level, large-scale selective migration leads to remarkable changes in community demographic composition, shifting sociocultural norms and aspirations, influencing community institutional resources and collective social capital.

Over the past few decades, the scientific literature examining the implications of this large-scale migration and split families on the well-being of children left-behind has proliferated. However, empirical evidence on the effect of parental migration on left-behind children’s well-being is mixed for China and other countries in the context of international migration. Few studies have attempted to reconcile the inconsistent findings by examining the moderator effect. Although the potential effects of migration on cognitive development of children in origin communities reflect both household- and community-level processes, few studies have examined how community-level migration affects child development. In addition, mostly focused on the well-being of school-aged children, very limited study has been conducted on parental migration and early childhood development in the first few years of children’s lives, especially in the domain of cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Moreover, most researches have relied on cross-sectional data, exploring the association between a contemporaneous measure of parental migration and statically measured child outcomes at one point in time, ignoring the potential impact of the timing, transition and cumulative exposure to parental migration/absence, and may also be prone to selection bias.

To bridge the gap, the first analysis examines the conditions that may influence the effect of parental migration on child self-rated health (SRH). The results suggest a relatively weak main effect, but this is due in part to the influence of moderating factors. Children are more likely to report a good health status when the economic return of migration is substantial, if they are from impoverished communities, or when mothers remained at home to provide care while the father migrated a short distance within the same province. The second analysis focuses on examining community migration effect. Findings suggest lower cognitive achievement in communities experiencing high migration intensity. Children living in very high migration intensity areas are expected to have 3.57- and 1.54-unit lower verbal and math scores, which are equivalent to 1.67 and 0.87 years of formal education respectively. A possible explanation for this effect is the change in demographic composition brought about by the outmigration of better-educated adults. Finally, applying growth curve modeling strategy, the third analysis examines parental migration and early childhood development trajectories and states, taking into account timing, transition and cumulative exposure to parental migration. Our findings indicate that while left-behind children are comparable in the prevalence of childhood illness, positive behaviors and preschool enrollment, two-parent migration has a detrimental effect on children’s linear growth, cognitive stimulation, and home environment. Lack of appropriate cognitive stimulation in the critical early years could have important implications for child cognitive development.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sandberg, John
Commitee: Huang, Cheng, Sandberg, John, Uretsky, Elanah
School: The George Washington University
Department: Global Health
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 80/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Public health, Sociology, Demography
Keywords: China, Early childhood development, Internal migration, Left-behind children, Moderation, Neighborhood effect
Publication Number: 13420478
ISBN: 978-0-438-78486-4
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