Tracking rural-to-urban migration in China: Lessons from the 2005 inter-census population survey

Avraham Ebenstein*, Yaohui Zhao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We examined migration in China using the 2005 inter-census population survey, in which migrants were registered at both their place of original (hukou) residence and at their destination. We find evidence that the estimated number of internal migrants in China is extremely sensitive to the enumeration method. We estimate that the traditional destination-based survey method fails to account for more than a third of migrants found using comparable origin-based methods. The ‘missing’ migrants are disproportionately young, male, and holders of rural hukou. We find that origin-based methods are more effective at capturing migrants who travel short distances for short periods, whereas destination-based methods are more effective when entire households have migrated and no remaining family members are located at the hukou location. We conclude with a set of policy recommendations for the design of population surveys in countries with large migrant populations.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)337-353
Number of pages17
JournalPopulation Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2 Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Population Investigation Committee.


  • China
  • destination
  • migration
  • origin
  • population surveys


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