Child Development in the Face of Rural-to-Urban Migration in China: A Meta-Analytic Review

  • Wang L
  • Mesman J
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In the last 30 years, China has undergone one of the largest rural-to-urban migrations in human history, with many children left behind because of parental migration. We present a meta-analytic review of empirical studies on Chinese children's rural-to-urban migration and on rural children left behind because of parental migration. We examine how these events relate to children's emotional, social, and academic developmental outcomes. We include publications in English and in Chinese to uncover and quantify a part of the research literature that has been inaccessible to most Western scholars in the field of child and family studies. Overall, both migrant children and children left behind by migrant parents in China show significantly less favorable functioning across domains than other Chinese children. It appears that, similar to processes found in other parts of the world, the experience of economic and acculturation stress as well as disrupted parent-child relations constitute a risk for nonoptimal child functioning in the Chinese context. Further, we found evidence for publication bias against studies showing less favorable development for migrant children and children left behind. We discuss the results in terms of challenges to Chinese society and to future empirical research on Chinese family life. Copyright © The Author(s) 2015.

Author-supplied keywords

  • China
  • child development
  • culture
  • family
  • literature review
  • meta-analysis
  • migration

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