“Earn to spend”: How consumption view of young Chinese differs from that of older generations

Young consumers line up before a cashier's desk at a duty-free store in Haikou, south China's Hainan Province, Nov. 11, 2020. (Photo by Wang Chenglong/People's Daily Online)

From frugality to consumption upgrade, from avoiding risks to active investment, and from hard toil to living in the present, the changes happening to the consumption view of young Chinese are an epitome of China’s rapid development, and will shape the future of China.

Mei Lin, who has just started a career last year, told the People’s Daily that she must ensure that she is still energetic before deciding to work overtime or find extra jobs, and her health mustn’t be affected by the extra work.

“We must work hard, but it’s not acceptable for me to trade health and the joy of life for money,” she said.

However, the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 still affected some young people’s perception of income, consumption, and wealth management.

“It taught me two important things. One is buying insurance, and the other is saving money and doing wealth management,” said a young woman named Wang Mengmeng.

Different from their elder generations, the young Chinese are not into the typical work mode that teaches people to accumulate wealth first and enjoy later. What they are doing is to spend while earning.

“The former generations made money to just ‘exist,’ and their money was spent on housing, education or emergencies. Some of them even made money just to save it,” said Zhu Di, a researcher with the Institute of Sociology under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“However, more and more young Chinese believe that they make money in order to enjoy life, rather than living just for making money,” Zhu noted.

According to a McKinsey report on China’s luxury market in 2019, the Chinese born in 1990s accounted for 23 percent of China’s luxury consumption in 2018. Each of them spent an average of 25,000 yuan ($3,865) on consuming luxuries, an equivalent to that of their older generation. Statistics released by Bain last year indicated that the young Chinese bought their first luxury product at an average age of 20.

Zhu said the young Chinese attach more importance on the present, instead of preparing for what’s not happening. “They know what they want and like, which is different from the value of the older generations who always cared more about what was affordable.”

“The young generation is more confident about future economy and their own development. With the improvement of the social security system, those born after 1990 is not anxious at all about their retirement,” said Fu Guoqun, professor with the Guanghua School of Management, Peking University.

Apart from being generous to themselves, the young Chinese are also willing to join public welfare establishments. A primary school teacher surnamed Liu from Beijing has been donating to the Red Cross every month since July 2012. “It’s an honor for me to contribute to the society,” she said. Besides, she’s also a fan of “freecycling” who always donates her idle clothes to those in need.

A report issued by Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance indicated that the group who manage their wealth in China is turning younger, and those born in the 1990s make up the majority.

Online wealth management is becoming a hot choice for the young people. The people born in the 1990s and 2000s accounted for 49 percent of the online wealth management market in 2019.

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