The return intentions of China’s rural migrants: A study of Nanjing and Suzhou

Shuangshuang Tang, Pu HAO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


A considerable proportion of China’s rural-to-urban migrants today are not able to formally settle in one location. Whether these migrants stay in the city or return to their rural homes has important ramifications for the country’s demographic and economic changes. Using data from a recent survey in Nanjing and Suzhou, this article explores the settlement and return intentions of rural migrants. It is found that although most rural migrants do not intend to settle permanently in the host city, a considerably large group of them are inclined to return to a local town or city in their home region rather than to their rural origin. Such prospective urban returnees share many similarities with members of the floating population but express distinct preferences and concerns. For both prospective rural and urban returnees, family obligations play a decisive role in the formation of the return decision. The findings suggest that return migration, on the one hand, is a trade-off between livelihood in the rural origin and the urban destination and, on the other hand, aims to maximize utilities based on one’s family background and resources, which may drive rural migrants to settle in urban areas close to their rural homes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-371
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Urban Affairs
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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