Not long after the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, Chairman Mao declared motherhood to be a patriot duty to build manpower. Whilst there was no official policy, government propaganda rallied couples to reproduce. It condemned contraceptives and even banned the import of some. By the 1960s the average Chinese woman had six children.
Just 30 years after Mao Zedong initiated the baby boom, the population had almost doubled to close to one billion. To curb the growth, China introduced a two-child cap in the 1970s, followed by the One Child Policy in 1979 which persisted until 2016. The policy wasn’t as restrictive as the name would suggest, with about half of all Chinese parents – particularly those living in the countryside – allowed to have a second child for 30 of the 36 years that the policy was enacted. Nevertheless, the world’s most extreme family planning exercise systematically altered the Chinese family structure forever.
When Beijing ended the One Child Policy in 2016, there was a small bump in fertility – partially helped that it happened after the undesirable Year of the Goat which rises always follow. But it soon became clear that another baby boom wasn’t going to happen. In 2019, China’s birth rate was its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic including when the One Child Policy was in full force. Last year, Covid contributed to the number of registered births in China falling again by 15%.
Whilst Chinese parents can now have multiple children, it has become socially acceptable to have one. The expense of raising a child in China: ensuring they have premium, safe food; an education that may give them a chance in China’s hyper-competitive workplace, among other things, has been a potent contraceptive for many Chinese. A large share of couples are opting to have no kids at all, some are substituting babies with pets.
Families have had only-children for two generations now, yet most have still been blessed with large extended families as a result of the enormous families pre-1979. Family-based decision making has extended to aunties, uncles and the generations before. However, by 2050, nearly a sixth of China’s children and teenagers will have no brothers, sisters, uncles, or aunts. As eloquently put by Nicholas Eberstadt and Ashton Verdery in their Foreign Affairs’ article, “Many tens of millions of people will traverse life from school through work and on into retirement with little or no first-hand experience of the traditional extended family so integral to Chinese culture. Theirs will be the generation that in effect finds 2,500 years of Confucian tradition coming to an end.”
Although Chinese are inherently pragmatic people who adapt to anything that comes their way, having no extended family networks will inevitably have an impact on individual consumers and the wider society.
The demographic changes will undoubtedly accelerate some trends that we are currently seeing. We expect consumers to look to their individual tribes and interest groups where they may have sought support from their families a generation earlier. They will find brotherhoods and sisterhoods from gaming communities, sporting groups, education cliques and other interest groups further than before. For people thinking that KOLs and KOCs may diminish in importance, the smaller pool of role models in a family will see consumers seeking more direction from societal figures. The importance of social networks as a place to connect will accelerate further in importance, and with it, social and community commerce. Mental health will become more prevalent, and more accepted and supported. Parents are also likely to provide pets as companions for their kids and themselves, further fuelling China’s pet economy.
The drastic shifts in Chinese demographics will be yet another factor driving the dramatic change of Chinese consumers. China Skinny can assist you to ensure that your strategy considers these relevant changes. Contact us today to learn more.
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