Author: Zhou, Jiantao
Title: Uncovering the mechanism underlying the educational self-selection of internal migrants in China
Advisors: Hui, Chi-man Eddie (BRE)
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2022
Subject: Migration, Internal -- China
Internal migrants -- Education -- China
Migrant labor -- China
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Department of Building and Real Estate
Pages: xiii, 204 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: In today's knowledge-based economy, human resources play an increasingly critical role in regional development compared to the cheap labor of the past. Consequently, as an essential source of labor supply, the role of population migration in economic growth is also changing. The agglomeration of high-skilled labor facilitates the economic performance of destination regions. In turn, the loss of this labor undermines the economy of original regions, which enlarges the regional development gap. In such cases, instead of the scale of migration, it is necessary to obtain more understanding about the skill composition of migrants and its underlying determining mechanism, while classical "push and pull" theories fail to explain it. This problem is particularly significant in China, given that China has undergone radical changes in recent decades, from a labor-intensive economy in the beginning, that relied on large amounts of cheap rural labor, to the industrial upgrading reform in the last decade, that has created an enormous demand for highly skilled labor.
The prerequisite for understanding the skill composition of migrants is to realize the self-selection mechanism of migrants, which is hardly discussed in China. This thesis aims to fill this research gap and comprehensively investigates the self-selection of migrants in China and its underlying mechanisms. To achieve this goal, this research first empirically portrays the self-selection pattern of migrants, employing four periods of Census data. Then, the classical self-selection framework is extended to explain the underlying mechanism by introducing four new ingredients: the household registration (hukou) system, inequality of opportunity, technological change, and housing costs. Finally, this research proposes several empirical econometric models to verify proposed four new impact channels that induce migrant self-selection. The major findings are discussed below.
The most important finding of this research is that the internal migration in China shows a U-shaped selection pattern, unlike most cases found in other regions/countries. High- and low- skilled individuals have higher propensities to migrate (captured by migration rates), while mid-skilled ones surprisingly have the lowest. A key explanatory factor is China's unique hukou system. This research theoretically and empirically verifies that the hukou system reduces migrants' income levels through labor market discrimination on the one hand, and increases migrants' living costs by limiting social benefits on the other. As a result, given the skill-biased local hukou application mechanism (which prefers high-skilled migrants), this system has reshaped the migrant selection pattern and led to a U-shaped one.
In addition to the hukou system, the difference in regional return to skills and heterogeneous migration costs also contribute to this pattern. First, this research finds that developed coastal regions have relatively lower income inequality (representing the return to skills) and thus asymmetrically attract more low-skilled migrants than high-skilled ones. Besides, two income inequality components, inequality of opportunity (induced by uneven social opportunities) and inequality of effort (induced by varying personal efforts), also lead to a positive selection of migrants. This result implies that those low-skilled migrants from inland to coastal regions are not only chasing economic returns but also more social opportunities.
Second, however, the attractiveness of developed coastal regions for low-skilled migrants is fading due to the labor market shock induced by technological change. This research takes the industrial robot installation as a case to investigate how technological change alters the labor market and influences the skill demand for migrant labor. The results show that cities with higher levels of robot exposure attract more high-skilled migrants in production sectors but crowd out low-skilled ones, which implies that industrial robots mainly displace low-skilled labor but need more complements from high-skilled labor. This mechanism has resulted in a significant positive selection of migrants.
Thirdly, migrants are also facing housing unaffordability issues that significantly increase their migration costs, along with the economic development in destination cities. This research theoretically and empirically explores the heterogeneous effects of housing costs on migrants with varying skill levels. The results show that low-skilled migrants are crowded out from big cities due to relatively higher housing costs, similar to technological change. As a result, except for the hukou system and technological change, the housing prices also build a barrier to select high-skilled migrants settling in developed regions but crowd out low-skilled ones to other less-developed regions.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: open access

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