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China 2020: More Men, More Ambitious Women

The repercussions of “single child” policies
  • May 11 2012

 

This is the first of a multi-part series on changes in China.

 

It is hard to imagine that a U.S.-style Census could be routinely conducted in a nation as vast as China, with its rapid social changes and massive urbanization. It would certainly be interesting, as many of the preconceptions people have about Chinese behavior are being broken. The speed by which the country is transforming—both economically and socially—is having a significant impact across demographic segments. That’s why we often take a forward-looking view; in this case, projecting where China will be in 2020.

Consider the case of women.

Between 2000 and 2010, China’s economy tripled in size. While prosperity can allow a nation to leapfrog ahead, there has also been social policy influencing how China will progress into 2020. At that time, the first generation of “single children” (those born during China’s single-child policy which stated in the 1970s) will be middle-aged with their own “single child” studying in high school.

One of the key implications of this rule has been to create gender imbalance (as many families opted to have their single child be a male). In 2020, there will be 13 million more men than women aged 25 to 34 in China. Compare that to the U.S., where there were more women than men in 2010—157 million vs. 152 million—according to the U.S. Census. An interesting repercussion to this: Men’s beauty care is a fast-growing market now in China, as men need to make them more presentable to the smaller pool of available women.

The single-child policy also liberated women from household chores (with help from extended families). As a result, more Chinese women are now in the workforce than ever before.

More than two thirds (67 percent) of women in China are employed, compared to 52 percent in Hong Kong and 58 percent in the U.S. Interestingly, 76 percent of these women aspire to be in top jobs compared with 52 percent in the U.S. Chinese women have grand ambitions for their futures, are rapidly climbing the corporate ladder and achieving equality in compensation.

With greater economic power, Chinese women will also have greater spending power. In the next part, we’ll look at how higher earnings will be changing Chinese shopping habits.

 

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