Internal Migration and Mental Health: An Examination of the Healthy Migration Phenomenon in China

Abstract

Using the 2008 and 2009 Rural–Urban Migration in China (RUMiC) survey data, two waves of a nationally representative survey dataset, this study examined the “healthy migrant phenomenon” with regard to mental health in China. The results show that migrants exhibited better mental health than urban residents did after controlling for variables of socioeconomic status in a regression analysis. The study confirms that the “healthy migrant phenomenon” does exist under the setting of internal rural to urban migration in China, and the socioeconomic status disparities between migrants and urban natives plays a vital role in the phenomenon. Taking advantage of the unique framework of the RUMiC survey data, we were able to use not only the samples of migrants and urban residents but also those of rural residents to assess the potential channels further. Our results provide some suggestive evidence that self-selection effect and “salmon effect” are possible mechanisms causing this phenomenon.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Because internal migrants are substantially different from immigrants, this paper references Chen (2011), who referred to the healthy immigrant effect as the healthy migrant effect/phenomenon. Some studies have used the term healthy migrant hypothesis (Tong and Piotrowski 2012). In our paper, we treat these as identical items and apply them according to the context.

  2. 2.

    We provide a detailed summary of the literature in “Conceptual background and literature review” section.

  3. 3.

    In this paper, we concentrate our discussion on the first aspect of the HIE based on the following reasons: First, we were concerned about distraction and divergence from the main points in our study if we added a more formal discussion about the YSM effect in the manuscript. Second, our data are cross-sectional and have some limitations in exploring the YSM effects; thus, cohort and YSM effects cannot be disentangled with a single cross-section of data. Last but not least, it is well known that assessing subjective mental health can be easily influenced by emotion, and when the respondents are interviewed, a study of the YSM effect of mental health needs a more sophisticated measure and delicate design.

  4. 4.

    For US evidence, see Hamilton and Hummer (2011), Huang et al. (2011), Hill et al. (2012). For Canadian evidence, see McDonald and Kennedy (2004), Newbold (2005), Kobayashi and Prus (2012), Aglipay et al. (2013), Kwak and Rudmin (2014). For Australian evidence, see Chiswick et al. (2008), Jatrana and Pasupuleti (2013). For UK evidence, see Averett et al. (2012). For Spanish evidence, see Gotsens et al. (2015), Rivera et al. (2016). For Irish evidence, see Nolan (2012). For US/UK/Canadian/Australian evidence, see Kennedy et al. (2015). For French, Italian, Spanish, and Belgian evidence, see Moullan and Jusot (2014).

  5. 5.

    We also discuss the selective migration effect and the “salmon effect” by using the migrant sample (from UMS) instead of the migrant workersR sample (from RHS). See Appendix A. This complementary discussion is only for reference.

  6. 6.

    We did not include marital status in the baseline regression because the variables capturing the basic demographic characteristics (such as age, gender, and ethnicity) were all exogenous. Marital status does not belong to this group of variables. When we included marital status in the demographic characteristics’ variables, the conclusions did not change.

  7. 7.

    We thank anonymous reviewers for suggesting valuable points in this section.

  8. 8.

    Unfortunately, a consistent measure of current or past heavy alcohol consumption and physical exercise habit information were not available.

  9. 9.

    Following the suggestion of an anonymous reviewer, we also performed an F-test to determine whether the two estimate coefficients are significantly different. It turns out that it failed to pass the test at any significant level (p value is 0.6314). Noting that the magnitudes of the t-statistics of the two coefficients are relatively close,(one is 2.05, and the other is 1.90), we could make a safe conclusion that the two effects were relatively close to each other; one passed the thresholds of the test of significance and the other failed to pass the test.

  10. 10.

    According to the definition of the healthy migrant phenomenon, the purpose of our study is to compare the urban residents and the migration workers who have already self-selected to migrate in cities. Therefore, the selective migration effect and the “salmon effect” are mechanisms that we should explain after measuring the healthy migration phenomenon rather than adjusting them before measuring. In fact, several researchers, such as Jatrana and Pasupuleti (2013), Qin et al. (2015), and Yuan (2009), have used a fixed-effect model or instrumental variables method to eliminate the self-selection problem. However, the purposes of these three studies differ significantly from ours. The three papers aimed to study the causal effect of migration on health; thus, they had to eliminate the self-selection problem to disentangle the endogenous problem, while ours focused on measuring the healthy migrant phenomenon itself.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the editor and the three reviewers for their considered and detailed comments on our manuscript, which have helped us to improve it significantly. We thank for Andrew Foster, Xi Chen, Hong Liu, Yanyan Xiong, Lingguo Cheng, Suqin Ge, and other participants in 2018 2nd Biennial Conference of CHPAMS (China Health Policy and Management Society) at Yale University, 2017 Conference on Health and Development at Institute of Economics, Academia Sinica, and seminars at Yale University, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Southeast University and Nanjing University for their helpful comments. Ling Zhou and Zuyu Wang provided excellent research assistance to this paper. We also thank for the financial support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71603046), the MOE Project of Key Research Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Universities (Grant No. 17JJD630002), National Social Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 13CJY091), and ZhiShan Young Scholar Program of Southeast University (Grant No. 001).

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Correspondence to Zhaopeng Qu.

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Ma, C., Qu, Z. & Xu, Z. Internal Migration and Mental Health: An Examination of the Healthy Migration Phenomenon in China. Popul Res Policy Rev 39, 493–517 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-019-09552-z

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Keywords

  • Healthy migrant phenomenon
  • Mental health
  • Rural–urban migrants
  • China

JEL Classification

  • I14
  • J61
  • O15