The current study examined the patterns of adaptation of rural-to-urban migrant children in China as compared with their peers in urban schools. It also explored the potential factors relating to school adaptation by employing the cultural and structural perspectives, which emphasizes the access to social relations and the socioeconomic status in a society.
We conducted surveys in a district with a large number of migrants in Shanghai. This cross-sectional study recruited 1577 children from 12 primary schools, who completed self-reported questionnaires.
Attending a public school can promote the children’s adaptation, including the access to more family resources (d = 0.77, p < 0.05; 0.47, p < 0.05; 0.28, p < 0.05) and social relations (Cohen’s d = 0.17, p < 0.05; 0.28, p< 0.05; 0.11, p < 0.05). However, policy limitations and lack of family resources are primary factors that prevent children from attending public schools. Children from families with higher income (OR = 1.28, 95% CI [1.05, 1.55], p < 0.05), higher parental education achievement (OR = 1.19, 95% CI [1.05, 1.35], p < 0.01), and homeownership (OR = 2.03, 95% CI [5.35, 10.95], p < 0.001) are more likely to enroll in a public school.
The study’s findings contribute to the growing knowledge about migrant children’s adaptation and can guide future policy-making. The adaptation gap between migrant children from public and migrant schools raises a concern about the upward mobility of migrant children from disadvantaged families, which requires more attention and support from local government.