Psychosocial Wellbeing Among Rural Migrant Workers in China: Did the 2008 Financial Crisis Worsen Their Vulnerability?

  •  Jason Hung    


Background. Since 1980, China has been experiencing the largest migration in human history to urban areas. Rural migrant workers are exposed to disproportionate stress, a sense of marginality, language barriers and low social positions. Stress plays a significant role in the development of psychosocial challenges, including anxiety, hostility and depressive symptoms, as well as diagnosable conditions, including compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders. This project questions whether rural migrant workers were particularly vulnerable in terms of psychosocial wellbeing after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, one of the major incidents marking the worst turmoil of the 2008 financial crisis.

Methods. Data from the Rural Urban Migration in China (RUMiC) 2007-08 and 2008-09 datasets were used for analyses. General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) -12 scores, categorised as the presence of common mental disorders (CMDs) vs. the absence of CMDs, were chosen as the dependent variable. Socioeconomic status was measured as per hukou status, job nature and working hours, each treated as an independent variable. City, gender, age, ethnicity and educational level were taken into account as confounders. Cross-tabulations and binary logistic regression analyses were run. The software package STATA 14.2 was used for secondary data analysis.

Results. The more educational qualifications rural migrant worker samples received, the more likely they were to be free from CMDs. However, tertiarily-educated rural migrant worker samples enjoyed similar levels of mental wellbeing as their counterparts who had completed elementary school or below. Additionally, there was no statistical evidence to suggest that rural migrant worker samples were more likely to experience CMDs based on their job nature (non-manual vs. manual vs. self-employed vs. family business) or working hours (< 60 hours per week vs. 60-119 hours per week vs. >= 120 hours per week).

Conclusions. The optimal rural migrant workers’ educational level, in terms of maximising their mental wellbeing, was between senior secondary school and post-secondary school level. However, socioeconomic factors, namely, job nature and working hours, were insignificant determinants of mental wellbeing of rural migrant workers. Moreover, there was no evidence suggesting rural migrant workers suffered from a distinct mental wellbeing between 2008 and 2009.

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