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Saturday, December 02, 2017, 11:21
Millennials in China more willing to spend
By The Straits Times/ANN
Saturday, December 02, 2017, 11:21 By The Straits Times/ANN

People look at goods on an electronic screen at a T-Mall exhibition during the Singles Day shopping festival in Shanghai on Nov 11, 2017. (STR / AFP)

BEIJING - Gao Xiangwen, 25, is willing to spend money on things that save time and make life convenient.

She works for an investment agency, where she is a website editor. She has her own car - for the independence, and the ease and speed of commuting it allows her.

Gao earns about 7,000 yuan (US$1,059) a month, and uses part of her income to pay off the car loan.

A few months ago, she got herself a pet cat, and decided to buy a robot vacuum cleaner to clean up the cat hair - and spare herself the time and effort.

She does her shopping online, or sometimes goes to the malls, but only when she needs to.

Brands do not matter to her but "quality does", she said.

Gao and others like her born in the 1990s are part of a new breed of Chinese who are a new engine of consumption in the country, according to a poll published last week by consulting firm McKinsey and Company.

A group of women leave a mall after shopping in Beijing on Aug 14, 2017. (WANG ZHAO / AFP)

The survey polled about 10,000 people aged 18 to 65, in 44 cities, and seven rural villages and towns.

It found that those aged 27 and below grew up in a China marked by extraordinary levels of wealth, exposure to Western culture and access to new technologies - a far cry from the China their parents knew.

Growing up in an era of unprecedented wealth, these millennials are mostly non-savers and more willing to spend on themselves.

The report said: "Comprising 16 per cent of China's population today, this consumer cohort is, by our projections, going to account for more than 20 per cent of total consumption growth in China between now and 2030, higher than any other demographic segment."

Felix Poh, one of the report's authors, in a phone interview with The Straits Times, said this group will "help China shift towards a consumption-driven economy", given their propensity to spend.

After decades of investment-led, export-driven growth, China has been moving towards growth driven by domestic consumption.

Professor Hong Tao, from the Beijing Technology and Business University, said a consumption-led economy is clearly taking shape in China. Consumption made up 64.7 per cent of gross domestic product growth last year, up from 44.9 per cent in 2010, he said. Young people are the most active group of consumers in China today, he added.

However, young people today tend to rely more on parents and credit facilities, and are more willing to "use tomorrow's money to realise today's dreams", he said.

China's household debt has doubled in the past eight years, and is expected to hit 50 per cent of GDP by the end of this year. Apart from house and car loans, unsecured loans for buying items such as phones and other electronic gadgets have increased. Still, given that a large proportion of these young consumers - about 40 per cent, according to the survey - are more environmentally conscious, they are likely to also drive China's sharing economy, said Poh.

People walk between stores in a shopping mall in Beijing on Sept 18, 2017. (GREG BAKER / AFP)

Prof Hong agreed, and said a sharing economy allows for more sustainable development. Young people, he added, are more willing to rent rather than own flats, and share bicycles and cars, among other things.

This will add up to less air pollution and fewer traffic jams, he said.

Poh said while compensation is important to millennials, they tend to look for meaningful jobs and work environments.

For instance, Gao said having spare time to read or meet family members is more important than earning a high salary.

Zhan Tianyu, 24, a graduate student of traditional Chinese medicine, said she chose to train as a Chinese physician to help others. Instead of working in a hospital, she plans to work in a clinic where she can choose her work hours, she said.

Asked how such attitudes might affect China's economy, Prof Hong said he is not too worried. Technology, he said, is already taking over many aspects of human labour.

More importantly for China, these young Chinese are confident and optimistic about their future.

Poh said Chinese people born in the 1990s have never experienced an economic downturn, so they are far more confident about their country's economy, unlike their Western counterparts.

He hoped this meant young Chinese people would play a meaningful role in the economy, with an increased appetite for innovation and a focus on sustainable enterprises.

Said Poh: "This can only mean good things for China's economy... and it will help China's standing in the world, especially if it is seen as tackling meaningful issues through social enterprise."

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