Sunday, November 10, 2019

Data from China: When parents leave behind the children to work afar there is a significant negative effect on children’s non-cognitive development

Parental Migration, Investment in Children, and Children’s Non-cognitive Development: Evidence from Rural China. Hanchen Jiang and Xi Yang.

Abstract: Many children worldwide are left behind by parents who are migrating for work. While previous literature has studied the effect of parental migration on children’s educational outcomes and cognitive achievements, this study focuses on how parental migration affects children’s non-cognitive development. We use longitudinal data of children in rural China and adopt labor market conditions in destination provinces as instrumental variables for parental endogenous migration choice. We find that parental migration has a significant negative effect on children’s non-cognitive development. Differentiating inter- and intra-provincial migrations suggests that the negative effect of parental migration is mainly driven by inter-provincial migrations. We test four different mechanisms of how parental migration affects child development including parental financial inputs, parental time inputs, household bargaining, and children’s own time input. Our results provide insights into the relative importance of different mechanisms in determining the effect of parental migration on children’s non-cognitive skill formation.

Keywords: Left-behind Children, Parental Migration, Parental Input, Non-cognitive
Development, China
JEL Classification: J12, J13, J24, J61, R23

Full text, notes, references in the link above. Excerpts follow.

6.5 Parenting Style and Parental Health

In addition to the mechanisms we have tested so far, the literature has emphasized other
important determinants of child development. One is parenting style (Dooley and Stewart,
2007; Fiorini and Keane, 2014; Doepke and Zilibotti, 2017). Although there are no consistent
measurements of parental style so far, the few papers that considered these kinds of variables
commonly find that parenting style has an impact on child developmental outcomes. For
example, Dooley and Stewart (2007) find that different aspects of parenting (positiveness,
hostility, consistency, and punitiveness) are more important than family income in terms of
determining children’s behavior and emotional outcomes. Fiorini and Keane (2014) find that
parental warmth and effective discipline lead to better non-cognitive outcomes for children.
More recently, Doepke and Zilibotti (2017) develops a theory to explain how parenting style
plays an important role in determining children’s welfare and economic success. Parenting
style can be an important channel through which parental migration affects child develop
ment. The GSCS provides limited information on parenting style. Nevertheless, we define
harsh parenting style by the mother’s and child’s answer to the question “whether you beat
your child/you are beaten when misbehaved.” Using the baseline fixed effects model with
instrumental variables, our results in Appendix Table A7 show that the effect of the father’s
migration on parenting style is insignificant. These results, however, do not imply that par
enting style is not important in terms of explaining the link between a father’s migration
and his children’s development outcomes. Future work needs to measure parenting styles in
a more comprehensive way to better test this mechanism.

The other determinant that was mentioned in the literature is parent’s health condition,
which may have an impact on the quality of time parents spend with their children. For
example, Ronda (2016) and Herbst (2017) find that maternal psychological distress and de
pression may have a negative impact on children’s outcomes. In the meantime, the migration
literature has provided some evidence that migration increases the probability of being in
poor physical and mental health (Antman, 2010; Barrett and Mosca, 2013). To test this
mechanism, we investigate whether the father’s migration has an impact on the self-assessed
health status of the father and mother.41 Appendix Table A7 provides the estimation re
sults, showing that the father’s migration does not increase the probability of parents in
poor health condition. However, we are reluctant to conclude that parent health status
is not an important mechanism behind the link between parental migration and a child’s
development, considering that our measure of health status is self-reported and does not
differentiate between mental health and physical health. This is a mechanism worth testing
in the future. 42

7 Discussion of Sub-sample Results

Table 15 reports the sub-sample estimation results and highlights some interesting patterns.43
First, columns (1) and (2) show that the effects of father’s migration are larger among male
children (-0.057 and -0.028) than those for female children (-0.065 and -0.047). We hypoth
esize that there are several explanations for this gender difference. First, the left-behind
mother communicates better with girls while having difficulty dealing with teen boys. Sec
ond, lacking a positive male role model has a negative impact on a boy’s development. Thus,
maternal input could be a poorer substitute for the lack of paternal inputs when it comes to
raising a boy. Third, as proposed in Bertrand and Pan (2013), the non-cognitive development
of boys, unlike that of girls, appears extremely responsive to the quality of parental inputs,
which is negatively associated with parental migration.44 Nonetheless, we are not intending
to decompose these different channels, and we leave it for future studies. This kind of gender
difference has also been documented in recent child development literature, which finds that
father absence, usually caused by divorce, has a greater influence on boys than girls. For
example, Bertrand and Pan (2013) find that boys do especially poorly and are much more
likely to develop behavior problems in broken families, which are usually associated with
worse parental inputs. Figlio et al. (2019) find that family disadvantage disproportionately
impedes the development of boys by using birth certificates matched to schooling records in

Columns (3)-(6) divide the sample children by their parents’ education levels. We find
that the negative effect of the father’s migration is more evident if parents, especially mothers,
are less educated. For example, if the mother has not graduated from elementary school,
then the father’s migration reduces internalizing and externalizing scores by 0.036 and 0.071
points. But if the mother has graduated from elementary school, the two coefficients are
reduced to 0.025 and 0.05. These results suggest that mothers with better education are
more likely to engage in high-quality parenting and can better mitigate the adverse effect
caused by the father’s absence (Carneiro et al., 2013).

Moreover, as previously discussed, lack of time inputs seems to be the major mechanism
through which the father’s migration affects his children’s development. In that sense, it is
possible that better infrastructure, such as having access to a telephone service, may help
left-behind children connect and communicate with their fathers. In columns (7) and (8)
of Table 15, we divide our sample children by whether their resident village has telephone
services, but the negative effect of father’s migration does not vary much across the two
groups. This may be because telephone communication is not a good substitute for face-to
face communication in terms of parenting or because the telephone is not widely used among
migrant families to maintain effective communication between the migrant father and his
children left behind.

8 Conclusion
This paper sets out to identify the effects of a father’s migration on his children’s non
cognitive development. By exploiting a longitudinal data set and using instrumental variables
based on the destination provinces, we identify a negative effect of a father’s migration.
We explore several possible mechanisms behind this negative effect. First, we find that a
fathers’ migration is associated with an increase in family income, which, however, does
not lead to an increase in child-related spending. In the meanwhile, our results show that
a fathers migration increases his decision power on financial allocation within the family,
which provides a potential explanation of the observed divergence in family income and
spending. More important, a father’s migration reduces the time both parents spend talking
and playing with their children. Overall, the father’s migration reduces both parent financial
and time inputs, which might be the two major driving forces behind the negative effect of
a father’s migration on left-behind children.

These results expand the scope of current literature by uncovering negative consequences
of parental migration that is rarely studied in the literature. More important, our discussion
on potential mechanisms suggest that relevant policies are urgently needed to help migrant
parents improve their financial and time inputs on children. Considering that non-cognitive
skill is a vital dimension of human capital, these policies would have an important impact
on increasing inter-generational mobility and on reducing rural-urban inequality.

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