Population and Environment

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 182–203 | Cite as

Determinants of out-migration in rural China: effects of payments for ecosystem services

  • Qi Zhang
  • Richard E. Bilsborrow
  • Conghe Song
  • Shiqi Tao
  • Qingfeng Huang
Original Paper


Rural-to-urban migration has been a hallmark of economic development in China and other developing countries and can have profound socio-economic and ecological implications. This study seeks to understand the impacts on this migration of two large payments for ecosystem services (PES) programs implemented by the Chinese Government: the Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program (CCFP) and the Ecological Welfare Forest Program (EWFP). The primary goal of these PES programs is environmental conservation with poverty alleviation as the secondary goal. We use a full model of the factors affecting rural out-migration at the individual, household, and community levels to investigate how these PES programs have influenced out-migration in a mountainous rural area of Anhui, China. Results show that the CCFP facilitates out-migration, while the EWFP overall discourages it, thereby somewhat offsetting the effects of the CCFP. Out-migration is also shown to be affected by a number of other individual, household, and community characteristics. The results are useful for designing concurrent PES programs in the future aiming at both environmental conservation and livelihood improvement in not only China but also other developing countries.


Migration Payments for ecosystem services Forest policy Household survey Livelihoods Multilevel analysis Rural China 



We are grateful to the School of Forestry and Landscape Architecture at Anhui Agricultural University for the support in field data collection and for office space for training interviewers. We also thank students from Anhui Agricultural University who served as interviewers in the household survey, as well as for collaboration in data entry and initial data cleaning in China. Finally, we are grateful to the editor and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticisms and insightful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


This study was supported by the US National Science Foundation (Grant # DEB-1313756).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiostatisticsUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial SciencesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.School of Forestry and Landscape ArchitectureAnhui Agricultural UniversityHefeiPeople’s Republic of China

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