Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version


Document Type



The Nebraska Educator, Volume 4 (2017), pp 4-25.



© 2017 University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Estimates indicate that about 70 million children in China have been left behind in their hometowns by one or both parents as their parents migrate to other places for work opportunities. However, the potential impact of parental migration on the emotional well-being of left-behind children is still unclear. The purpose of this study was to examine depression levels in Chinese left-behind children and to identify potential risk factors contributing to depressive symptoms in this population. Using a nationally-representative, stratified sample from the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) database (3019 children, ages 10-15), an HLM model was applied at 1) the child level measuring the influence of family structure and individual-level parenting practices, and 2) the county level estimating the effects of rural vs. urban differences and county-level parenting practices. Cross-level effects between child factors and county factors were also examined. The depressive symptoms were measured by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D, Radloff, 1977). Findings indicated that the left-behind children were more likely to report higher scores on depressive symptoms indices than children from intact families. Children reporting more positive parenting practices also tended to have fewer depressive symptoms. The effect of family structures on children’s depressive symptoms depended on the county-level parental behaviors. Implications for schools and parenting practices were discussed.