Clinical Research Papers:

Mental health of the old- and new-generation migrant workers in China: who are at greater risk for psychological distress?

Bao-Liang Zhong _, Sandra S.M. Chan, Tie-Bang Liu, Dong Jin, Chi-Yi Hu and Helen F.K. Chiu

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:59791-59799. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.15985

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Bao-Liang Zhong1,2, Sandra S.M. Chan1, Tie-Bang Liu3, Dong Jin3, Chi-Yi Hu3 and Helen F.K. Chiu1

1 Department of Psychiatry, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, PR China

2 Affiliated Wuhan Mental Health Center/The Ninth Clinical School, Tongji Medical College of Huazhong University of Science & Technology, Wuhan, Hubei Province, PR China

3 Shenzhen Key Laboratory for Psychological Healthcare, Shenzhen Institute of Mental Health, Shenzhen Kangning Hospital, Shenzhen Mental Health Center, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, PR China

Correspondence to:

Helen F.K. Chiu, email:

Keywords: migrant worker, psychological distress, epidemiology, generation

Received: February 06, 2017 Accepted: February 28, 2017 Published: March 07, 2017


Rural-to-urban migrant workers (MWs) are a large vulnerable population in China and, recently, the new-generation MWs (those born in 1980 or later) have become the majority of this population. Examining difference in the epidemiology of poor mental health between the new- and old-generation (those born before 1980) MWs would facilitate mental health promotion efforts. However, very few related studies are available and they produced conflicting findings. This study investigated intergenerational difference in prevalence and correlates of psychological distress (PD) in MWs. A total of 3031 MWs (691 old- and 2340 new-generation MWs) completed a standardized questionnaire containing socio-demographic, migration-related, and work-related variables and the Chinese 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). A GHQ-12 score of 3 or higher was used to denote PD. PD was more prevalent in the new- than old-generation MWs (36.2% versus 28.2%, P < 0.001). The elevated risk of PD in the new- versus old-generation remained significant after controlling for potential confounders (OR=1.51, P < 0.001). For the new-generation, correlates for PD included low monthly income, recent two-week physical morbidity, migrating alone, poor Mandarin proficiency and long working hours; while for the old-generation, correlates for PD included low education, recent two-week physical morbidity, and having worked in many cities. The new-generation MWs are at higher risk for PD than the old-generation MWs. Mental health services for addressing the generation-specific needs may be an effective way to prevent or reduce PD of MWs.

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