Rural household migration in China – the roles of actual and perceived tenure security

Guangcheng Ren, Xueqin Zhu, Nico Heerink, Shuyi Feng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Migration can make an important contribution to rural poverty reduction and overall productivity growth, but it may be limited by prevailing rural land tenure arrangements. Since 1998, the Chinese government has implemented a number of land tenure reforms with the aim of improving the tenure security and the transferability of land. Although these reforms enhanced legal tenure security, it is not clear to what extent they remove existing land tenure bottlenecks in migration. Both actual tenure security, i.e. local implementation of laws that warrant tenure security, and household perceptions of tenure security are likely to play a role. In this paper we examine the impacts of actual and perceived tenure security on rural household migration in China, taking into account the degree of development of land rental markets. We argue that actual and perceived tenure security can have both positive and negative effects on migration decisions and that the presence of land rental markets may modify these effects. A two-step control function approach that controls for endogeneity of tenure security perceptions is applied to household and village-level data collected in Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Liaoning provinces and Chongqing municipality. We find that both actual and perceived tenure security affect migration, but the impact of perceived tenure security measured by land reallocation expectations is much stronger and is positive, whereas the independent impact of actual tenure security is negative. Households perceiving a lower risk of losing land when one or more members migrate are more inclined to migrate, independent of the availability of land rental markets in their villages. Actual tenure security, as measured by absence of land reallocations and possession of land certificates, has an independent negative effect on migration only in villages with underdeveloped land rental markets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101534
JournalChina Economic Review
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • China
  • Household perceptions
  • Land rental market
  • Land tenure security
  • Migration

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