In China, left behind kids battle a social stigma, even if their material conditions are sometimes better than that of children living in homes without migrant income. Conventional wisdon, even among grandparents, is that the grandparents of leff-behind children are not capable of raising children who succeed in school or in life.
Experts are divided on how much children being raised by grandparents are hurt, in terms of educational or even physical development — or even if there is a negative impact at all.
There are trade-offs involved in having a migrant in the family, says Scott Rozelle, professor of economics at Stanford University and co-founder of the Rural Education Action Program, which has been collecting data on children in China’s remote rural areas for a decade. He conducted one of the largest studies so far of the state of China’s rural children, both with and without parents.
The study’s findings go against the conventional wisdom. “Left behind children are not the most vulnerable in rural China,” the study’s authors write, adding they “perform equally or even better than children living with parents on the health, nutrition and education indicators we examine”.
“Anemia prevalence, height for age and weight for age . . . mathematics, Chinese and English scores, junior high school and vocational high school dropout rates . . . are the same as those among children living with their parents.” In fact, children living with parents are in slightly worse health. Mr Rozelle is not sure why. “Maybe access to more resources helps, at least in part, to offset the negative effects of the absence of parental care,” he suggests. Or maybe those who choose to migrate are more intelligent than the average villager — “and so granny is smarter too”.
Mr Rozelle’s point is not that things are just fine for left behind kids — but that both kids living with and without parents in rural areas are vulnerable, and that increasing government resources targeted to helping left behind kids, such as surrogate parenting programmes, may be misspent.