from “Migrant workers and their children,” by the China Labour Bulletin.
As the economic reforms of the 1980s gained pace, what the cities needed most was cheap labour. And so began what is often described as one of the greatest human migrations of all time, as hundreds of millions of young men and women from the countryside poured into the factories and construction sites of China’s coastal boom towns.
There are an estimated 277 million rural migrant workers in China, making up more than one third of the entire working population. 59.4 percent of China’s migrant workers were located in the eastern provinces, 21.5 percent were in the central regions, and 18.8 percent in the west. Of the 169 million long-distance migrants, 78 million were trans-province migrants while 91 million stayed within their province.
The gender balance of migrant workers in 2015 was almost exactly two thirds male to one third female, a clear trend towards an older population. The proportion of workers aged 16 to 30-years-old was 33 percent in 2015, while the proportion of workers over 40-years-old was 45 percent. The aging population may also explain why the gender balance is shifting towards male workers.
While the majority of migrant workers still only have a middle school education, about 25 percent do now have some form of higher education, including 8.3 percent who went to college. By contrast, only six percent of rural migrants under 30-years-of-age have received any kind of agricultural training.
The vast majority of rural migrant workers are still employed in low-paid jobs in manufacturing, construction and services. Manufacturing jobs in 2015 were 31.1 percent in 2015, down from the past reflecting both the decline in China’s manufacturing industry, the relocation of low cost, labour intensive factories to smaller Southeast Asian countries, and more opportunities for migrant workers in other sectors. Construction jobs were 22.3.
[The main iPhone facility in Zhengzhou now employs 110,000 workers, with other factories employing hundreds of thousands more. Last summer, Apple contractors reportedly hired 100,000 workers to ramp up production of the iPhone 6s in advance of its fall release.]
Wage levels for migrant workers have increased steadily over the last five years with the average monthly wage exceeding 3,000 yuan for the first time in 2015 to stand at 3,072 yuan. The vast majority (85 percent) worked in excess of 44 hours per week. In 2015, seven years after the implementation of the Labour Contract Law, only 36 percent of migrant workers had signed a formal employment contract with their employer, as required by law
There were about 61 million children under 18-years-of-age who were left behind in the countryside in 2010, accounting for about 22 percent of all children in China, and 38 percent of all rural children.