A Study on the Relationship Between Housing and Migration of Chinese Rural Migrants


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
  • Xinping Guan (External person) (External Supervisor)
  • Ngai Ming YIP (Supervisor)
Award date29 Jun 2022


Over 70% of China's 376 million mobile population are rural migrants who have made significant contributions to China's economic growth and urbanization. The decisions of rural migrants about housing, settlement and hukou not only influence their life course at individual level, but also affect Chinese housing markets, urbanization, and rural revitalization at macro level. This thesis seeks to examine the interrelationship between the housing choice, settlement intention, and hukou conversion intention of rural migrants to gain a deeper understanding of the housing and migration careers of rural migrants. This would also offer insights into urbanization and rural revitalization in China. In addition, this research aims to reconstruct the meaning of housing for rural migrants and build a theoretical model of post-mobility decision-making to explain the housing, settlement, hukou conversion, and returning decisions of rural migrants to promote the theorization of this research field. Guided by the life course theory, this study not only analyzes the historical and social contexts of rural to urban migration, but also it explores the motivations and underlying institutional factors behind the rural migrants' housing, settlement, and hukou conversion decisions. The research questions this thesis seeks to answer are as follows. (1) How do the historical and social contexts influence the housing, settlement, and hukou decisions of rural migrants? (2) What are the housing and migration careers for different subsets of rural migrants? (3) How do rural migrants make their housing decisions regarding housing purchase and housing location? (4) How does housing influence rural migrants' settlement intention? (5) What are the motivations behind rural migrants' housing, settlement, and hukou decisions, and what institutional factors does it reflect? The new economic theory of migration and the theory of multi-locational livelihood strategy are employed to complement the main theoretical approach of the life course perspective.

This research adopts a mixed-methods approach combining quantitative study and qualitative analysis as the primary research methods in a sequential nested triangulation design. Based on their socio-historical context, the rural migrants are divided into four cohorts according to their age: the first cohort is those born in 1960 and before, the second cohort is those born between 1960 and 1980, the third cohort is those born between 1980 and 1990, and the fourth cohort those born in 1990 and after. Based on the current hukou and housing policies, the rural migrants are divided into two subgroups, the "talented" rural-urban migrant population with a college degree, and the rural migrant workers without a college degree. Both cohorts and subgroups of rural-urban migrants passed statistical tests, which showed significant differences between cohorts and subgroups regarding employment, income, housing status, housing plan, intention to convert hukou, return to hometown, and settle down.

The empirical results regarding rural migrants' access to "second homeownership" and their choice of its location show that, controlling for the relevant variables, the long-term residence intention, returning intention and hukou conversion intention of rural migrants positively affect the acquisition of their additional housing ownership, indicating their high demand for housing. Rural migrants who have the settlement and hukou conversion intentions are more likely to buy a house in the host cities, while those who plan to return to their hometowns are more likely to purchase housing in their home town or home county. Based on this result, seemingly unrelated bivariate probit models have been built to identify the endogeneity of the relationship between housing ownership and the settlement and hukou conversion intention in the host place. This is followed by using recursive bivariate probit models to control for this endogeneity, and to analyze the effect of homeownership on the settlement and hukou conversion intentions of rural migrants. The empirical results show hometown immovable properties such as housing, homestead, and contracted land have significant adverse effects on rural migrants' settlement and hukou conversion intentions. The opposite effect of homeownership in the host city on the settlement intention and hukou conversion intention is identified, with the positive impact on the settlement intention, and the negative effect on hukou conversion intention, thus highlighting the substituted role of housing ownership for the hukou.

Further in-depth interviews revealed that rural-urban migrants are motivated by family-based peasant rationality. The development and future of their children are one of the most important starting points for rural migrants' decision-making. They tend to have a conservative attitude toward hukou conversion based on their expectation of the high value of a rural hukou and contracted land, and their perceived risks linked to their rural properties. Therefore, they prefer to buy a house and settle down without hukou conversion when they are able to. When they do need to convert their hukou, retaining the rural hukou of other family members is their agent strategy for maximizing the family benefits and minimizing the family risks.

Finally, a post-mobility decision-making approach has been constructed, based on the integration of the life course framework and the new economic theory of migration, to explain Chinese rural migrants' housing, and settlement decisions by emphasizing the two-sides impact of macro-social structure on their housing and settlement choices as well as the motivation behind these choices. In terms of settlement and hukou conversion, the multi-level housing demand, as well as multiple housing meanings for Chinese rural migrants, have also been uncovered based on the research findings.

This research not only disentangles the complex relationship between rural migrants' housing, settlement and hukou conversion, but also builds a model of housing demand and housing meaning and a post-mobility decision-making model for Chinese rural migrants, contributing to the theoretical development of related studies. The analysis of rural migrants' housing and settlement choices offers a better understanding of the inter-relationship between the people-centered new-type urbanization strategy and the rural revitalization strategy and better planning of such strategies.

    Research areas

  • rural migrants, housing ownership, settlement intention, hukou conversion intention, housing demand model, post-mobility decision-making model