Dr. James Gentry, Maurice J. and Alice Hollman College Professor, received the George Fisk Award, presented annually at the Macromarketing Conference in Dublin, Ireland, on behalf of the Macromarketing Society. The award recognizes the best conference paper and was presented to Gentry, along with co-authors Dr. Jie Gao Fowler ‘12, Dr. Chu Rongwei and Dr. Xin Zhao for their paper, “The Plight of Rural Migrant Workers in Urban China.”
“It’s nice to have my research validated,” said Gentry. “The concept of macromarketing is to look at issues very systematically. One thing I love about macromarketing is we look at issues that potentially affect everyone. I used to be a micromarketer and my time in macro has helped me see if you push in one direction it might have an affect somewhere else that you wouldn’t see if you were solely concerned with micromarketing.”
The paper looked at migrant workers in China, and specifically focused on the Chinese government policy known as hukou. Hukou amounts to an official household registration designation which determines where citizens are allowed to live.
“Hukou more or less defines a person as either an urban or rural resident,” said Gentry. “It kept people from moving for a long time. When they decided they needed more urban labor, such as manufacturing and construction, they let people move but they didn’t give them urban hukou. That means the children can’t go to school past ninth grade in the urban world, they don’t have medical benefits and a lot of other rights were stripped away.”
The scope of the migrant situation in China dwarfs that of any other country in the world, making it a prime subject for macromarketing. Both legal and cultural implications are difficult to get a handle on, as well as the size of the population.
“There are 275 million migrants in China, which is more than any other country’s population except for the U.S., India and China itself. Normally when we talk about someone relocating there’s a liminal state which is fairly chaotic but eventually comes to an end. That isn’t usually the case with migrant workers in China when they move to a big city like Shanghai. They may be treated special when they return to their rural families, yet they have miserable lives in Shanghai, often living eight to a room. They don’t have access to cell phones and bicycles which the native urban population has,” he said.
Gentry explained Chinese gated communities further serve to put a barrier between those granted urban hukou status and those coming from outside the city as migrant workers. The borders between urban and rural hukou status are just as significant to the Chinese as national borders might be in other countries.
“The people aren’t crossing borders dividing countries, but they’re facing the same restrictions people who cross borders face. It’s very much a cultural border, and in Shanghai and Beijing the government is threatening to put roads through the gated communities to save energy. The people who live there are up in arms. Their aging population adds to the problem which isn’t good for the economy because you need people paying taxes. Some of the problems seem unfathomable but what the paper tried to do was raise awareness about the situation," said Gentry.
Fowler, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Administration, presented the paper at the conference. She is currently an assistant professor at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia.