Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Heying Jenny Zhan

Second Advisor

Erin Ruel

Third Advisor

Jennifer Morgan


China has been undergoing massive rural-to-urban migration in the past four decades. As of 2019, there are approximately 300 million migrant workers in China’s labor force, which accounts for approximately 20% of its entire population. However, policy makers and society as a whole have paid insufficient attention to migrant workers’ well-being. This dissertation examines the relationship between Chinese migrant workers’ migration experiences and their well-being into aging and retirement. Using a sample of 1,083 migrant workers from three Chinese emigration provinces (Anhui, Sichuan, and Henan) in a quantitative dataset and 30 follow-up interviews, this dissertation examines: (1) factors of migration experience that affect migrant workers’ health and healthcare, (2) factors influencing migrant workers’ retirement savings, and (3) the structural relationships between migration experience, hopefulness toward retirement, self-rated health, and overall retirement planning. Quantitative findings of this dissertation revealed that longer work experience and lower income are negatively associated with their poorer health; Having higher income, better social support network, and being hopeful for retirement are positively correlated with having retirement savings. Qualitative findings revealed the social context of the cumulative disadvantages that rural migrant workers experience because of their social status as rural residents. The non-transferable healthcare and retirement benefits associated with rural migrant workers’ social status resulted in their poor health and reduced chance of retirement saving. Continued cultural belief in intergenerational support led to migrant workers’ reduced chance of savings for retirement. Yet, having hope for retirement and confidence in retirement insurance system resulted in increasing participation of migrant workers in social insurance. This dissertation sheds light on the understanding of the interactions between urbanization, population aging, and the Chinese cultural expectations. It adds to the existing literature by linking migration and urbanization with social policies and cultural expectations for migrant workers’ aging and retirement in rural China.


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