China’s Generation Y

By Li Ying Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-1 17:08:01

Millennial metamorphosis

Reports suggest that Chinese generations born in the 1980s and 1990s love to travel outside of China and are addicted to their smartphones. Photo: Li Hao/GT


Harley Qu bought his own apartment with the financial support of his parents in Beijing in 2010 when he was 27 years old. Before that, the Peking University graduate from Heilongjiang Province had lived in a dormitory assigned by his company and shared a room with other colleagues.

Moving into his own apartment meant a brand new life and newfound independence for Qu.

"I longed for my own space and the freedom to do whatever I wanted at home, like play computer games or hang out with friends until midnight," he said.  

Qu's situation is one of many among China's millennial generation, or those born between 1980 and 2000. The same demographic in the US is known as "Generation Y," but differences abound. In China, millennials are playing an increasingly important and transformative role in society, especially in terms of spending power.

"China's millennial generation grew up against the backdrop of China's rapid economic growth and the family planning policy. They are more politically open-minded, economically affluent and more culturally diversified compared with older generations," said Duan Xinxing, a psychology professor focusing on youth development at China University of Mining and Technology.

According to a report in the Financial Times in February, China has a population of 300 million millennials. More than 25 percent of them are well-educated and thus have more opportunities than older generations to work in cities as white collars who are paid higher salaries. 

"Today, understanding the younger generations, the original dwellers of the Internet era, will better prepare us for coming into the era of digital living," Duan said. 

Economic power

In China, the post 1990s and 1980s generations have become one of the driving forces in the real estate market for the past years.

According to a report last month in Today Morning Express based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, more than 53.9 percent of people between the ages of 21 and 28 are considering buying a home in Hangzhou, while more than 36.7 percent of people between the ages of 29 and 38 want to buy another new property to improve living quality.

"Chinese millennials are growing up fast, and their buying power will continue to increase in the coming years," said Paul Mottram, managing director of Integrated Strategy in the Asia Pacific region for Text 100, a PR consultancy company, which released its latest report on Chinese millennials in April.

"As many as 73 percent of millennials in China are now working in full time employment, which means they are no longer a generation of children and young students," Mottram said.

"This generation will become leaders of families, businesses and ultimately of China at a time when China is forecast to take its place as arguably the most important economy in the world."

At present, Qu is considering selling his apartment to buy another one that is located closer to his company.

"I am not very satisfied with my current home. It is too far away from the city center. I will buy a new one when I get married, probably in two or three years," said Qu, who believes that as his career progresses, he will be able to afford a higher quality of life.

Deng Nanwei, a 22-year-old from Anhui Province, is also dreaming about owning her own home in Beijing.

Deng came to Beijing in 2013 after graduating with a Clinical Research Associate degree from a university in Heilongjiang Province. She now works with a pharmaceutical company and brings in a monthly salary of more than 4,000 yuan ($645).

Deng spends 1,300 yuan renting a room in an apartment with two other peers. She said she came to Beijing because she likes the people here, but she didn't always receive the support she needed.

"My father used to reject my idea of relocating to Beijing, but my mother supported me. I am a person who has been strong-willed since childhood, and my parents were unable to change my mind," Deng said.

Frustrated by the soaring housing prices in Beijing, Deng said she will buy a home as long as she gets married to her current boyfriend. However, two salaries still isn't enough to cover the costs without help.

"Of course, our parents will help us with the down payment, and we will be paying the mortgage," said Deng.

Chinese millennials, with their new consumption power, play an increasingly important role in the economy. Photo: IC


Travel hungry, web savvy

Based on a study of 1,000 millennials in the Chinese mainland, the Text 100 report said China's generation "tells a story of sensible, level-headed consumers with both goals and ambition."

Mottram explained that in Chinese mainland, only 46 percent of the population has Internet access. Therefore, the survey skewed toward those who can access the Internet, representing a wealthier, more urban section of the population.

Deng fits most of the characteristics suggested in the report: They are tech-crazy and savvy. Compared with their counterparts in the UK and US, "they watch more movies and TV, play more games, download more content and use more apps."

"Aside from when I am sleeping, I'm on my smartphone all the time, playing games, refreshing my WeChat moments or reading news," said Deng, who bought her iPhone 5s last year online - the younger generations prefer shopping online than department stores.

According to the Text 100 report, the most popular social media platforms in China are WeChat, Youku and Weibo.

In terms of their social media habits, the report highlights that Chinese mainland millennials are more likely to share things than their peers overseas. "Funny content tops their list of content worth sharing, but work- and study-related information, and news and technology follow closely behind," the report said.

Meanwhile, Chinese mainland millennials are more interested in news and current affairs than their counterparts in the US, UK or Hong Kong, according to the report.

"A third of Chinese mainland millennials list news and current affairs as one of the interests. This is significantly higher than for the UK (26 percent), Hong Kong (23 percent) and the US (18 percent). "

Another major difference suggested in the report is that traveling is more important for Chinese than for Westerners.

The Financial Times report said that China's millennials are more willing to pay bills for international travel, which has been driving the domestic and outbound online tourism market and the airline industry. Hong Kong and Macao used to be popular among the Chinese mainland travelers but the younger generations prefer to travel to destinations further away, according to the report.

Both Qu and Deng said they love traveling and are planning trips abroad.

"I want to travel to Southeast Asia with my boyfriend when we have saved enough money," Deng said.

These general traits affect how millennials spend, and thus how business will need to operate.

Wu Xiaobo, a famous economy columnist, said some of China's traditional enterprises may suffer in 2015 as the consumers of the post 1980s and 1990s become the new consuming power.

"The old business models for producing, marketing, branding, and talent training have been reshaped," Wu was quoted as saying when he attended the 2014 New Industrial Economy Forces Forum of China in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in November 2014.

"The enterprises that rely on low-cost production will be weeded out, while those apply new business models will see growing interest."

Social transformations

Similar to its global counterparts, China's millennials are also experiencing an era that has witnessed changing lifestyles in attitudes toward marriage, and the rise of women's social status in the professional world.

It is widely reported that young people are getting married late and spending more time pursuing their education and career goals, resulting in a large population of "leftover men" and "leftover women" (people who are unmarried above the age of 27) in society.

While some criticize millennials for being irresponsible, self-centered and selfish in life, Duan Xinxing disagrees.

"The millennial generation generally possesses an attitude that they would be better off single rather than make a compromise for marriage," Duan said. "This is an attitude where they take responsibility for their personal life." 

Duan said, however, that for China's millennials to really experience a more mature and completely self-sufficient lifestyle, they should be mentally separated from their parents.

For those like Deng, who will have to rely on her parents for meeting housing payments, parents still play a key role in their adult life.

"Our generation has been spoiled by our parents, which leads us to behave capriciously. We are weak in terms of psychological endurance," she said. 

Last year, Deng once quit her first job on an impulse. She left the company without considering her income and social insurance. She also lost her annual bonus.

"I regret that I did that," she said. "In the future, I will be more sensible in making decisions and behave more responsibly both in my career and life."

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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