BEIJING (Reuters) - China's young rural migrant workers are more eager to work in cities, and are spending more and saving less, an official survey showed on Monday, a trend that could boost Beijing's efforts to urbanize and re-balance the economy in the long term.
To help turn consumers into the main driver of the economy, China's leaders aim for 60 percent of the country's population of almost 1.4 billion to be living in cities by 2020.
Beijing has pledged to gradually free up the rigid residence registration, or hukou, system to allow millions of migrants to settle in cities and enjoy basic welfare services there to help unleash their spending power.
About 55 percent of young migrant workers born since 1980 worked in bigger cities - those at the prefecture-level or above - far higher than the 26 percent tally for older workers, the latest survey by the National Bureau of Statistics shows.
Young migrants also spent 19.3 percent more than their predecessors.
The survey showed that the proportion of young people working outside their home towns was 80.3 percent, higher than 61.8 percent for older migrants.
The number of rural migrant workers, including those who already lived in cities, rose 2.4 percent in 2013 from the previous year to 269 million, the survey showed. But that pace slowed from 3.9 percent in 2012.
A seemingly endless stream of rural workers migrating to cities in search of better jobs and lives has underpinned China's economic rise in the past three decades.
But the pool of cheap labor is steadily drying up as the population ages, pushing up wages.
That is squeezing profit margins for Chinese and multinational firms, but bodes well for Beijing's plan to transform the economy from one driven by exports and investment to one that is driven more by consumption.
The number of migrants working in their home provinces rose an annual 3.6 percent in 2013, outpacing the rise of 1.7 percent in the number of people working outside their home provinces.
That reinforced signs that China's export-oriented coastal provinces face growing competition from their inland counterparts as more migrants seek and find jobs closer to home.
The monthly pay for China's migrants working outside their home provinces rose 13.9 percent in 2013, quickening from the 11.8 percent rise in 2012 and indicating a relatively tight labor market despite slower economic growth.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly stressed that employment is the first priority for the government, and economists also say it is the top factor that may trigger big-scale stimulus measures if the economy continues to lose momentum.
($1 = 6.2280 Chinese Yuan)
Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Kim Coghill