China's Left Behind Children: Impact of Parental Migration on Health, Nutrition and Educational Outcomes

China’s rapid development and urbanization have induced large numbers of rural residents to migrate from their homes to urban areas in search of better job opportunities. Parents typically leave their children behind with a caregiver, creating a new, potentially vulnerable subpopulation of left-behind children in rural areas. A growing number of policies and nongovernmental organization efforts target these children. The primary objective of this study was to examine whether left-behind children are really the most vulnerable and in need of special programs. Pulling data from a comprehensive data set covering 141,000 children in ten provinces (from twenty-seven surveys conducted between 2009 and 2013), we analyzed nine indicators of health, nutrition, and education. We found that for all nine indicators, left-behind children performed as well as or better than children living with both parents. However, both groups of children performed poorly on most of these indicators. Based on these findings, we recommend that special programs designed to improve health, nutrition, and education among left-behind children be expanded to cover all children in rural China.