Housing career disparities in urban China: A comparison between skilled migrants and locals in Nanjing

Blog by Can Cui

5 Dec 2018, 10:14 a.m.
Can Cui



The last two decades have witnessed a substantial growth in the owner-occupied housing sector in urban China. However, with skyrocketing house prices, fragmentation in housing opportunities is reshaping social inequalities. In these terms, it is crucial to query who are performing well and who are not in terms of establishing housing careers. In this paper, we investigate the housing career disparities of skilled migrants and their local counterparts through exploring how and why their housing tenures and locations change over time.

In the pre-reform and transitional era, skilled migrants were considered elites in the cities, better-off than locals in terms of access to housing. Owing to the tight link between education, employment and housing benefits in China, education was a decisive factor that certified one’s access to institutional resources and further granted privileges in the housing system. By viewing the ascending housing hierarchy as upward social mobility, education provided a promising channel at that time. Yet, since the end of 1990s, housing reforms have transformed the housing market from a welfare-oriented to a market-oriented system, which has greatly changed people’s access to housing. In recent years, with skyrocketing housing prices, entrant skilled migrants have been found to be in a disadvantaged position in the housing market and have even been forced to flee big cities because of the soaring housing prices.

In our study, we found that skilled migrants were by no means inferior to skilled locals with respect to resources at the individual level. However, they were situated at a lower rung in the housing hierarchy than were their local counterparts. The disparities in housing careers between these two groups tend to start right from the beginning, specifically, the tenure of the first residence. Spatially, migrants exhibit an outward-bound pattern, often associated with the transition from renting to owning. These disparities in housing career can be traced back to the gap caused by the intergenerational transfer of wealth between locals and migrants, as well as to the self-selection of migration. In China, establishing a housing career is more like a relay race among generations, and the starting point is determined by the resources of the parents’ generation; housing inequality is then reproduced and reinforced across generations.

For future research, we urge recognition of the heterogeneity of the migrant population, which has become increasingly diverse and dynamic. Furthermore, our findings imply that broader family context needs to be taken into account. Specifically, research requires exploring how parental institutional advantages/disadvantages shape the housing chances of their children.


Read the paper on Urban Studies - OnlineFirst here



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