Tropical Geography ›› 2020, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (1): 63-73.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003166

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Profiles and Mechanisms of Return Migration in Post-Reform Urban China:A Case Study of Four Cities

Cheng Hanbei1, Liu Yuqi2, Gou Feicui1, Chen Hongshen3, Li Zhigang1()   

  1. 1. School of Urban Design//Hubei Habitat Environment Engineering Research Center, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
    2. Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077
    3. School of Architecture, Southeast University, Nanjing 210096, China
  • Received:2019-03-28 Revised:2019-07-14 Online:2020-01-10 Published:2020-02-24
  • Contact: Li Zhigang


With the deepening of urbanization, new-generation migrants are returning, leading to backflow population. Few studies have explored this emerging phenomenon in urban China. However, majority of the researchers have focused on return behavior based on the “pull-push forces” theory defined by national and urban macro-factors. Less attention has been paid to the individual factors that cause migrants’ return, e.g., social ties and capital, perceived discrimination and exclusion, social integration, and place attachment. To fill this gap, this study examines the determinants of the new-generation migrants’ return intentions and location choices based on the following two micro-level aspects: “objective attributes” and “subjective perceptions.” Using the data collected from the 2014 National Floating Population Dynamic Monitoring Survey and binary and multiple nominal logistic regression models, this study focused on three types of new-generation migrants (born after 1980): skilled migrants, business migrants, and labor migrants in four cities (Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, and Zhongshan). The results can be given as follows. 1) New-generation migrants in urban China exhibited a strong intention to return, and their location choices differed based on their types. Further, 40% of migrants returned to their household region. Labor migrants exhibited the strongest intention (43.7%), followed by business migrants (36.0%) and skilled migrants (27.9%). Proportionately more skilled migrants planned to return to provincial capitals or prefectural cities when compared with the other two cohorts. 2) Binary logistic models identified return determinants; new-generation migrants’ returning intentions were influenced by both the “objective attributes” (demographical and economic condition) and “subjective perceptions” (economic position perception and sociopsychological perception). Males exhibited a greater probability of returning when compared with that exhibited by females. Age, education level, monthly income, and years of leaving hometowns were negatively related with the migrants’ return intentions. Long working hours per day contributed to their return. No evidence has shown that the marital status, number of children under the age of 18, or contract form were significantly related. As for the subjective factors, migrants with high family-related mental burdens and strong native cultural identification were increasingly likely to return. Strong social acculturation caused new-generation migrants to settle down in their destination cities. Importantly, there was no direct link between the migrants’ return intentions and perception of economic position. 3) Regarding determinants in local choices, education level was the most significant factor associated with migrants’ backflow to provincial capitals. Sociopsychological perceptions strongly influenced their backflow to prefectural cities. Demographic factors, such as gender, age, and years of leaving hometowns, exhibited a close relation with returning to counties or townships. Notably, migrants with high monthly incomes exhibited a greater probability of returning to urban settlements when compared with rural areas. This study confirmed that individual factors, particularly sociopsychological perceptions, have an important effect on the new-generation migrants’ return behaviors in urban China. Therefore, we initially call for the government to articulate the significance of social acculturation and integration, targeting the new-generation migrants to avoid “reverse culture shock” in backflow settlements, notably in prefectural cities. Second, the improvement of public services, such as medical care, pension, and children enrollment opportunities, as well as favorable policies and practices should be considered in urban development and planning and established to relieve the migrants’ family burden.

Key words: new-generation migrants, returning intentions, location choices, subjective perceptions

CLC Number: 

  • K901.3