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China's rural-to-urban migration has affected 12.6 million school-age rural children who have migrated with their parents and another 22 million who have been left behind by their migrant parents. Not enough is known, either theoretically or empirically, about the causal impact of migration on the wellbeing of this large number of Chinese children affected by migration. We conceptualize two counterfactual models to understand the causal impact of migration on children. We draw upon data from the 2010 baseline survey of the China Family Panel Studies, a nationally representative, annual longitudinal survey of Chinese communities, families, and individuals. We pool the origin-destination child samples to form appropriate comparisons and apply propensity score matching methods to estimate the average treatment effects for the treated. We find significant positive effects of child migration on their objective well-being but no negative effects on their subjective well-being. We also find little difference between the left-behind and non-migrant children across multiple life domains. Our findings highlight the important role of migration in narrowing the longstanding rural-urban gap in child development in China.
Country of focus: China.