New generation of migrants different from earlier one

Updated: 2012-05-25 08:25

By Xiong Yihan (China Daily)

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What exactly are the differences between the new generation of migrant workers and the older one? In September and October of 2011, a research group carried out a city-wide questionnaire survey in Shanghai.

The "new generation of migrant workers" involved in this survey are mainly born after 1980, left from somewhere else in the country to work in Shanghai, have lived in Shanghai for more than half a year, and have not obtained a Shanghai hukou or residence permit. The age range among this group was from 16 to 35.

The survey was carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics, using the stratified random sampling according to the ratio of Shanghai enterprises as listed in the directory and migrant workers of all industries, with 1,187 valid questionnaires returned. The survey discovered several significant differences between new migrant workers and those of the previous generation.

Employment: from survival to development

The hierarchy of needs among the new generation of migrant workers is shifting from being survival-oriented to being development-oriented: 27.6 percent of respondents noted that their main motivation for coming to Shanghai to work was to "make more money". The second motivation was to "find a better job" (18.1 percent). The third was to "find suitable development opportunities" (18 percent) and the fourth was to "create a better life and a better education environment for children" (15.3 percent).

An obvious trait among these results is the diversity in motivations. The new generation was more likely to view their moving to the city to find work as a way to strive for development rather than just simply seeking better wages. Moreover, the new generation was also more concerned with improving their skills and rights.

Living situation: from collective living to personal space

In contrast to previous surveys indicating that migrant workers mainly live in dormitories or on the premises of the company, in reality only 24.4 percent of migrant workers live in company dormitories and 3.7 percent live in temporary construction site housing. Nearly 62 percent of migrant workers choose to either rent an apartment with others or live on their own. These workers do not simply view their housing as a shelter, instead, they view it as a personal space that they can use to express their personality.

Through visits to the residences of the young generation of migrant workers, we discovered that the younger migrant workers often meticulously and personally decorate their rooms, especially female workers.

Self-identity: from outsiders to new Shanghainese

Regarding identity, nearly two-thirds of respondents (59 percent) felt that they were outsiders while one-fifth believed that they were both outsiders and Shanghainese. Nearly 19 percent felt that they were new Shanghainese. This means that approximately two-fifths of all the new generation migrants have a strong desire to integrate into Shanghai.

Rights awareness: from fatalism to active citizenship

When one's rights or interests are infringed upon, 45 percent of respondents choose to turn to social and legal services rather than seek help from friends and relatives back home. This number reveals that the new generation of migrant workers already possesses a certain degree of awareness regarding the law and their rights.

Through 50 interviews- 30 with new generation migrant workers and 20 with the older generation, the author found the former group of interviewees was more likely to mention words like "human rights", "freedom" and "equality". The latter group tended to mention words and phrases like "fate", "endure" and "there's nothing I can do".

When asked if individual rights are derived from government rules and laws or whether they are inherent, nearly half of the new generation migrant workers stated they are inherent. Around a quarter said they believe they are granted by law. However, more than 70 percent of the older generation felt they came from government rules.

Daily expenses: from remittances to local spending

The average monthly expenditure for the families of new generation migrant workers is 2,433 yuan ($385, 306 euros). Compared to the older generation of migrant workers, the younger generation is more likely to spend the majority of their income on city expenses rather than remit their money to family members at home.

A survey from 2000 revealed that 50 percent of all migrant workers sent 40 percent of their income to their hometown.

However, our survey showed that the younger generation of migrant workers only send home about 15 percent of their income. For the new generation of migrant workers, food expenditures and rent are the main portion of a family's monthly expenditures, comprising about 39.5 percent of monthly spending. Furthermore, their children's education takes up a big portion of their daily expenses. Every month, they spend about 320 yuan on education that accounts for 13.2 percent of total expenditure.

The author is an assistant professor in the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University, Shanghai.

(China Daily 05/25/2012 page7)