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Open Access Research article

Work ability of Chinese migrant workers: the influence of migration characteristics

Lu Han12, Leiyu Shi23, Liming Lu12 and Li Ling12*

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510405, China

2 Sun Yat-sen Center for Migrant Health Policy, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510405, China

3 Department of Health Policy and Management, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:353  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-353

Published: 13 April 2014



Migrant workers have become a vital labor supply to China’s economy. Their migration process and work conditions may influence their health and work ability. The work ability of migrant workers in China and the influence of the migration process on work ability have not been explored extensively in previous studies. The objective of this study is to evaluate the association of migration characteristics and work-related factors with work ability among migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta.


In this cross-sectional survey, the study population consisted of 907 migrant workers from ten factories in the Pearl River Delta who were exposed to organic solvents during work. The primary dependent variable of the study was work ability, measured by the Work Ability Index (WAI). The independent variables were individual characteristics, migration characteristics, and work-related factors. Logistic regression models were used to determine the influence of different factors on work ability and three dimensions of WAI.


The result shows that among migration characteristics, social support was significantly associated with all three dimensions of the work ability index. Permanent migration intention and longer length of migration were negatively associated with the mental resource dimension of WAI. WAI was also influenced by individual and work-related factors.


The findings of this study suggest that expanding migrants’ social networks and social support systems in their work place or living community, (i.e. expanding the functions of labor unions) would be an effective way to improve migrant workers’ work ability. Improving of migrant workers’ physical and psychosocial related work environments would also increase their work ability.

Chinese migrant workers; Work ability; Occupational health and safety