Migration and Split Households: A Comparison of Sole, Couple, and Family Migrants in Beijing, China
Posted: 11 Nov 2019
Date Written: October 30, 2019
The practice of split households among rural–urban migrants in China has persisted for more than twenty years. In this paper we compare three forms of split households, differentiated by whether the migrant's spouse and children are left behind or have joined the migrant: sole migration, couple migration, and family migration. Our survey of fifty chengzhongcun (urban villages) in Beijing conducted in 2008 shows that couple migration and family migration are outcomes of rural Chinese actively rearranging their household division of labor in order to maximize earnings from urban work opportunities. Migrants' decision to leave the children behind or to bring them along depends on the children's age and whether migrants' parents are available to help. Contrary to expectation, more household members in the city signals neither stronger intention to stay nor greater trust in the host society. These findings highlight the importance of thinking about migrants as circulators and thinking about migration, including family migration, as not necessarily a prelude to permanent settlement. They also underscore the need to address the experiences of long-term split households, a discourse that has received much less attention than one that assumes that a family lives together most of the time.
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