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Study Comparing Urban and Migrant Parents in Shanghai Finds That Migrant Parents Have More Effective Parenting Practices


When evaluating migrant and urban parents with similar levels of education, migrant parents were found to employ practices linked with better academic outcomes


A child with a backpack holds a parent's hand.

Getty images/Sasiistock

When comparing urban residents born in Shanghai to residents who migrated to Shanghai from rural areas, migrant parents generally use practices that were less associated with positive academic outcomes, according to a study by NYU researchers. However, when researchers compared parenting practices between urban and migrant families with similar education levels, migrant parents employed practices with better academic outcomes.

In 2014, school administrators, parents/guardians, and teachers of first-graders at 17 schools in Shanghai were surveyed to collect information related to parenting practices, parental education, and students’ academic performance in math classes.

Using this information, the researchers identified several parenting practices characterized by levels of support, interaction, and warmth including “authoritarian” (characterized by high levels of behavioral control and low levels of warmth) and “authoritative” (characterized by high levels of warmth, interaction, and support) to determine the differences in parenting practices between urban and migrant parents. They found that urban parents tend to use parenting practices that were linked to more positive academic outcomes (e.g., authoritative). However, when comparing similarly educated families with high school degrees, migrant parents were found to employ practices linked with better academic outcomes.

In addition, the authors found that the correlation between parenting practices and academic performance is stronger for migrant youth than urban youth—suggesting that migrant parenting practices have a greater impact on their children’s academic performance.

In their article, published in Chinese Sociological Review, the researchers note that millions of workers have moved from rural to urban areas in China over the past three decades, with 282 million migrants moving in 2016 alone. While migrants often find increased economic opportunities, urban areas such as Shanghai have seen widening disparities between the groups, particularly with regard to education.

“Educational inequalities between migrants and urbanites are largely characterized as being solely due to differences in access, but it is more than just that: parenting has always played a role,” says Associate Professor Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, the lead author of the study. “The findings from this study are promising in that migrant families use more progressive practices when compared to similarly educated urbanite parents.”

This study was coauthored by Erin Godfrey, an associate professor at NYU Steinhardt and Jason Rarick, a doctoral student at NYU Steinhardt.

Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng (程華宇)

Vice Dean for Research and Equity; Associate Professor of International Education

Erin Godfrey

Director of NYU's Institute of Human Development and Social Change and Associate Professor of Applied Psychology