What attracts young talents? Understanding the migration intention of university students to first-tier cities in China

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In recent years, China has witnessed fierce competition for talents among cities. There is evidence that China's first-tier cities are losing their appeal for young talents due to the soaring housing prices and high living costs in first-tier cities, as well as the catch-up of next-tier cities. Therefore, uncovering what factors drive young talents to develop in first-tier cities is important for policymakers to maintain and enhance the attractiveness of first-tier cities. Most previous research on talent migration has focused on demographic and socioeconomic factors, while little research has examined the influence of psychological factors. By adopting the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), this paper aims to explore what beliefs and background factors influence university students' intention to develop in first-tier cities after graduation. Using the data we collected from 1242 university students across China, we found that two-thirds of university students have the intention to develop in a first-tier city after graduation. The Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) results show that students' migration intentions were most influenced by their attitudes, followed by subjective norms and perceived behavioral control (PBC). Specifically, beliefs such as realizing future dreams, better job opportunities, and higher wages shape students' positive attitudes towards developing in first-tier cities. The supports from family, friends, teachers, and classmates contribute to positive subjective norms of developing in first-tier cities. In contrast, perceptions of high housing prices, high living costs, and family ties discourage students from developing in first-tier cities. Furthermore, being male, being a non-only child, studying in first-tier cities, and attending higher-ranking universities have positive influences on migration intention through the mediating effects of the TPB constructs. Policy implications were discussed to help first-tier cities attract graduates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103802
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • China
  • First-tier cities
  • Migration intention
  • Theory of planned behavior
  • University students


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