China's Young Migrant Workers Earn More, Send Less Home

A migrant worker in Beijing Photograph by Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

China’s younger migrant workers are better educated, spend more, save less, and prefer living in China’s bigger cities. They make up close to one-half of the migrant workforce, according to a survey released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Those from the younger generation, born after 1980—or balinghou (literally, “80 after”)—number 125 million, or 46.6 percent of China’s 269 million migrant workers. One-third have a high school education or higher; that’s 19.2 percentage points more than the older generation, the survey shows.

Unlike their parents, they aren’t inclined to scrimp devotedly in order to send  hard-earned kuai back to the countryside. The average younger migrant worker remitted 12,802 yuan ($2,054) to a hometown in rural China; that’s about 30 percent less than older workers did.

Meanwhile, young migrants spent 939 yuan ($151) a month last year, almost 20 percent more than those born before or during 1980; that’s good news for China’s leaders, who want a less-frugal population to rebalance toward a more consumption-driven economy. The average migrant worker earned 2,609 yuan ($419) a month in 2013, up 13.9 percent over the previous year, which compares to an 11.8 percent rise in 2012.

Finally, the younger generation would rather work in larger cities. About 55 percent chose to work in big and medium-sized cities, more than twice the percentage of older workers. That could challenge China’s leaders, who have declared that migrants will be encouraged to move to cities with less than 5 million people, rather than bigger metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai.

According to the “National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020),” released on March 16 by Premier Li Keqiang’s State Council and the central committee of the Communist Party, several hundred million additional rural residents will move to cities in the coming years. The plan calls for raising the country’s urbanization rate from today’s 53.7 percent to 60 percent by 2020.

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