With the continuous reform of China’s hukou system, more and more migrants choose to migrate with their children. This paper studies the impact of migrant children on the wage income of their parents and its underlying mechanism. Investigating the relationship between migrant children and the occupation choice of their parents sheds light on how familial factors influence the migration behavior of rural residents. This paper also deepens our understanding of the trade-off between nominal income, and the public services and housing costs associated with migrant children.
Bringing children with them means higher living costs and increased demand for public services for migrant parents. In a spatial equilibrium model, migrants face a trade-off between children migrating with them and higher income: Those who migrate with children tend to choose low-income areas for lower living costs and easily accessible public services. Using the dataset of the China Migrants Dynamic Survey between 2011 and 2017 and the instrumental variable (IV) method, this paper finds that migrating with children will decrease the hourly wage of migrant household heads by about 16%. Further results suggest that migrant children affect the wage income of their parents mainly through the choice of migration destination and occupation. Because of higher living costs and insufficient public services in the destination, those who migrate with children tend to narrow their migration scope to cities with lower housing prices and accessible public services. They also tend to choose flexible occupations with lower income. The negative impact of migrant children is larger for migrants with school-age children than those with preschool-age children. Households with school-age children narrow their migration scope to reduce costs and meet the demand for the public service of education at the cost of good job opportunities. Heterogeneity analysis also suggests that migrants (especially women) who migrate without their spouses are more negatively affected by migrant children than those who migrate with their spouses.
Our results suggest that children are an important factor affecting the migration choice of migrants, and policies should aim at reducing the costs of child migration. On the one hand, policymakers can provide more public services such as childcare, education, and medical care in urban areas, especially in high-income cities. It is necessary to increase the housing supply to reduce the living costs of migrants by providing public rental housing and low-cost housing. On the other hand, in the long run, industrial policies should promote balanced development and lower income gaps among regions, so that migrants’ income can be less dependent on children.