Document Type

Discussion Paper

Date of Paper

Fall 9-26-2022


About 11% of the Chinese population are rural-urban migrants, and the vast

majority of them (124 million people) possess a rural hukou which severely

restrict their children’s access to urban public schools. As a result, 61 million

children are left behind in rural areas. We use a regression-discontinuity

design based on school enrollment age cutoffs to document that migrants are

significantly more likely to leave middle-school-aged daughters behind in poor

rural areas without either parent present when schooling becomes expensive,

compared to middle-school-aged sons. The effect is larger when the daughter

has a male sibling. Migrant parents send significantly less remittances back to

daughters than sons. Migrants from rural areas adjacent to cities with more

restrictive hukou policies are more likely to separate from children as new

job opportunities arise in nearby cities due to trade-induced shocks to labor

demand. This produces a shift-share IV strategy, when paired with a longitudinal

dataset shows that those children complete 3 fewer years of schooling,

are 41% more likely to fail high school entrance exams, have worse mental and

physical health, and remain poor as adults. Although China’s hukou mobility

restrictions are not gender-specific in intent, they have larger adverse effects on



We thank seminar participants at the 2022 NBER SI “Gender in the Economy”, East Asia (Japan, Taiwan, Singapore) Applied Economics Workshop, NUS, and the 2022 Asian Meeting of the Econometric Society, and to Claudia Goldin, Jessica Goldberg, Nancy Qian, Alice Evans, Albert Park, Nina Pavcnik, Alessandra Voena, Prashant Bharadwaj, Jipeng Zhang for insightful suggestions. Ran Song thanks Yale-NUS College and the Tan Chin Tuan Chinese Culture & Civilization Program. Albert Park and Emily Hannum shared data.