Consumer behavior of rural migrant workers in urban China

Shuangshuang Tang, Pu Hao*, Jianxi Feng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


In Chinese cities, rural migrant workers are usually considered consumers with the lowest purchasing power. Nevertheless, the younger generation of rural migrants, who are considerably better educated and higher paid than their predecessors, form a growing group of able consumers. The increased consumption demand and capacity of rural migrants have started to transform the commercial landscape of Chinese cities, potentially contributing to the country's transition towards a consumption-driven economy. Based on a 2012 survey in Jiangsu Province, this paper identifies four distinct consumer types among young rural migrant workers: conservative, balanced, frustrated and adventurous. Their different consumption behaviors are shaped not only by their financial capacities, but also by their family responsibilities and acculturation attitudes in the city. Despite the similar constraints faced by all young rural migrant workers, some are more eager to develop an urban lifestyle and identity through imitating the consumer behavior of urban natives, while others largely retain rural customs and habits, which are shared by older generation migrant workers. The findings point to the impact of social and institutional barriers on rural migrants' consumption in light of increased social inequality amid China's urban transition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102856
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese youth
  • Consumer behavior
  • Precarity
  • Rural migrants
  • Urban China


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