4.12.2012 | Von:
Bettina Gransow

A Second Generation of Migrants: New Aspirations

A second generation of migrants, who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, has now grown up. Those who belong to this generation not only have fewer ties to their place of origin than the first generation (whether because as children of migrant families they grew up in cities, or because although they grew up in the country they themselves have had no experience whatsoever of agriculture), they also (thanks to their access to new media and the stories told by other migrants) are much more strongly oriented toward the city in their whole lifestyle.

Im Jahre 2011 lebte – zum ersten Mal in der chinesischen Geschichte – mehr als die Hälfte der chinesischen Bevölkerung in Städten.In 2011 – for the first time in Chinese history – more than half the Chinese population were living in cities. (© Bettina Gransow )

On the other hand, the young migrants often lack the financial means and (because of the rural hukou) other forms of support (e.g. inclusion in urban systems of social security) that would enable them to live in the cities for any length of time and raise a family of their own there. For while the migrants may find work in the urban centers, they face very high real estate prices there. For this second generation, rural-to-urban migration threatens to become a trap, as it denies them any prospect of return to the country yet does not offer them the chance of long-term integration in the city. More and more villages are inhabited only by people who are elderly or otherwise incapable of earning a living, or by children whose parents are earning money in the cities. On the one hand, from the point of view of the young migrants there is no longer any real alternative to urban life, while on the other hand they are only ‘recognized’ as cheap labor, not as young people who want to – and must – secure a livelihood for themselves. The situation is made more complicated by the institution of marriage, which, in China, particularly in the country, is still a matter between families. Numerous unwritten laws set the standards (which are high) for wedding celebrations and presents. For example, the bridegroom is expected to bring a house into the marriage. So it sometimes happens that men build houses in the country in order to find a wife, only for the houses to stand empty because both husband and wife work in the city. However, if they become pregnant, the women usually return home, as the cost of giving birth in the cities is too high and mother and child can be better looked after in the family environment.

There is another section of the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s that finds itself in a similarly hopeless, or at least problematical, situation to that of the second generation of migrants, namely, young university graduates with a rural hukou: on the one hand they would like to remain in the big cities after graduation, while on the other hand they are not part of the social networks that would enable them to make a career for themselves and perhaps be appointed to one of the coveted government positions which – unlike jobs in the private sector – offer attractive working conditions, higher salaries and better prospects. Like the majority of migrants, these university graduates live and work within the informal sector, although, because of their educational qualifications, they see themselves as representatives of the middle class.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Internal Migration in China – Opportunity or Trap?".

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