Rural Girls in Welfare Receipt Families Especially Vulnerable in Mental Health in China

April 17, 2020

In a new study published in the Social Science & Medicine, Professor Qin Gao and her colleagues found that in China, welfare entry and exit were associated with worse mental health for adolescents, especially for girls in rural areas.

As one of the world’s largest means-tested welfare programs, China’s Minimum Livelihood Guarantee (MLG or Dibao) has been implemented for over 20 years in urban areas and more than ten years in rural areas. Scholars have conducted policy evaluation of Dibao against various outcomes, such as work incentives, consumption patterns, and social participation of the recipients. The psychological well-being of Dibao recipients have also received attention in recent years, but most existing studies on this topic focused on the adults.  

This new study provides a pioneering exploration on how participating in Dibao may influence mental health of adolescents in welfare recipient families and whether the effects vary by the urban-rural divide and by gender. They used a longitudinal survey dataset of a nationally representative cohort of students aged 12 to 17. Their analytical sample in this study included nearly 9,500 seventh graders.

Professor Qin Gao collaborated with Xuan Huo of the School of Government at Nanjing University, who was a visiting scholar at the Columbia China Center for Social Policy during the 2018-2019 academic year. They reported that the negative effect of welfare entry and exit on adolescent mental health was only significant in rural areas but not in urban areas. From a gender perspective, they found that welfare stay, entry, and exit were associated with significantly worse mental health for girls in rural areas.

“These results suggest that the negative effects of identity stigma caused by Dibao receipt were strong enough to offset the positive effects of welfare benefits and call on attention to the complex underlying mechanisms of welfare dynamics,” explained by Huo.


By examining the relationships between welfare participation experience and adolescents’ mental health, this new work by Gao and her colleagues calls on policy makers to look broadly at the needs of low-income families and their children. The groups that suffer the most from the negative mental health effects—such as girls in rural areas—need special attention in professional counseling services and support from parents, schools, and the society.

Interested in reading the full article? Click here to access the full text before May 29, 2020.

Columbia Affiliations
China Center for Social Policy