Am I a peasant or a worker? An identity strain perspective on turnover among developing-world migrants

Xin Qin, Peter Hom, Minya Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Developing-world rural migrants provide crucial labor for global supply chains and economic growth in their native countries. Yet their high turnover engenders considerable organizational costs and disruptions threatening those contributions. Organizational scholars thus strive to understand why these workers quit, often applying turnover models and findings predominantly derived from the United States, Canada, England or Australia (UCEA). Predominant applications of dominant turnover theories however provide limited insight into why developing-world migrants quit given that they significantly differ from UCEA workforces in culture, precarious employment and rural-to-urban migration. Based on multi-phase, multi-source and multi-level survey data of 173 Chinese migrants working in a construction group, this study adopts an identity strain perspective to clarify why they quit. This investigation established that migrants retaining their rural identity experience more identity strain when working and living in distant urban centers. Moreover, identity strain prompts them to quit when their work groups lack supervisory supportive climates. Furthermore, migrants’ adjustment to urban workplaces and communities mediates the interactive effect of identity strain and supervisory supportive climate on turnover. Overall, this study highlighted how identity strain arising from role transitions and urban adjustment can explain why rural migrants in developing societies quit jobs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)801-833
Number of pages33
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • adjustment
  • identity strain
  • migrant workers
  • rural identity
  • supervisory supportive climate
  • turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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