Extending Pension Coverage to Migrant Workers in China: Challenges from a Fragmented Social Security System

Randong Yuan

The Center for Contemporary Chinese Studies, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

One of the challenges China has to overcome to sustain further development is the lack of a well-functioning social security system. This paper on social security reform in China focuses on its impact on the migrant workers in the context of ongoing urbanisation. Through presenting and analysing the fieldwork and secondary data and several case studies, the results indicate the presence of many irregularities and shortfalls in the implementation of pension policies on the ground by local governments, such as low pension coverage and low portability of pension benefits for migrant workers as well as inadequate pension benefits for migrant-worker retirees, which makes it difficult for them to settle down permanently in cities. The fragmented pension system dampens the incentive for many young migrant workers to make pension contributions, while the regressive contribution rules make it unaffordable for some migrant workers who want to join in order to be eligible for local resident permits and obtain access to local public services such as education for their children. Consequently, the current social security system in China is found to hinder inclusive urbanisation and labour mobility, the two major driving forces of further development in the country.


Randong Yuan is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at University of Melbourne. He obtained a joint honours degree from National University of Singapore and Australian National University in Economics and Actuarial Studies and previously worked as a research associate at National University of Singapore.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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