The Regulation of Migration in a Transition Economy: China’s Hukou System

45 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2009

See all articles by Shuming Bao

Shuming Bao

China Data Center

Orn B. Bodvarsson

Saint Cloud State University; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Jack W Hou

California State University, Long Beach

Yaohui Zhao

Peking University


Unlike most countries, China regulates internal migration. Public benefits, access to good quality housing, schools, health care, and attractive employment opportunities are available only to those who have local registration (Hukou). Coincident with the deepening of economic reforms, Hukou has gradually been relaxed since the 1980s, helping to explain an extraordinary surge of migration within China. In this study of interprovincial Chinese migration, we address two questions. First, what is a sensible way of incorporating Hukou into theoretical and empirical models of internal migration? Second, to what extent has Hukou influenced the scale and structure of migration? We incorporate two alternative measures of Hukou into a modified gravity model – the unregistered migrant's: (i) perceived probability of securing Hukou; and (ii) perceived probability of securing employment opportunities available only to those with Hukou. In contrast to previous studies, our model includes a much wider variety of control especially important for the Chinese case. Analyzing the relationship between Hukou and migration using census data for 1985-90, 1995-2000 and 2000-05, we find that migration is very sensitive to Hukou, with the greatest sensitivity occurring during the middle period.

Keywords: internal migration, Hukou, migrant networks, reforms

JEL Classification: J61

Suggested Citation

Bao, Shuming and Bodvarsson, Orn B. and Hou, Jack W and Zhao, Yaohui, The Regulation of Migration in a Transition Economy: China’s Hukou System. IZA Discussion Paper No. 4493, Available at SSRN:

Shuming Bao (Contact Author)

China Data Center ( email )

330 Packard St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
United States
734-647-9610 (Phone)
734-763-0335 (Fax)


Orn B. Bodvarsson

Saint Cloud State University ( email )

Saint Cloud, MN 56301
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Jack W Hou

California State University, Long Beach ( email )

1250 Bellflower Blvd
Long Beach, CA 90064
United States

Yaohui Zhao

Peking University ( email )

Department of Economics
Beijing 100871

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