Social spillovers of China's left-behind children in the classroom

Haining Wang, Rong Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Rural–urban migrants in China often have to leave their children in rural areas due to institutional restrictions. This paper examines the causal spillover effects of left-behind children on their classmates living with parents in rural China, exploiting the random assignment of students to classes within middle schools. We find that the proportion of left-behind children in class has a significant negative impact on the mental health of their classmates. We also show that the negative peer effects on mental health are related to the worsening of both classroom climate and peer-to-peer interactions. However, there is no evidence that exposure to left-behind students impairs the academic performance of their peers in the same classroom. Our findings suggest that the welfare losses of China's rural children resulting from the rural–urban migration of adult population are larger than previously thought after accounting for the negative social spillovers of left-behind children on their peers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101958
Number of pages12
JournalLabour Economics
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Left-behind students
  • Mental health
  • Peer effects


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