Three quarters of Chinese middle class families expect their children to attain a postgraduate degree, reports Mintel

Dec 05, 2012, 10:24 ET from Mintel

CHICAGO, Dec. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Following China's One-Child Policy in 1979, more than eight in ten Chinese families in tier 1 and tier 2 cities now have only one child - the pampered generation of "Little Emperors" - of whom there are now 50 million or more in China. But new research from Mintel on Chinese consumer lifestyles reveals that despite a life of comfort and privilege, expectations for the Little Emperors are now exceptionally high - as of today, a staggering three quarters (75%) of Chinese middle class families expect their children to attain a postgraduate degree, a testament to the extent to which higher education is linked with future prosperity in modern China.


In a prime example of the burden of expectation, only 32% of Chinese middle class families are happy that their child completes their education at only graduate level. These expectations are fairly consistent across all income bands and cities as well as being expected of both girls and boys. And it seems many Little Emperors will have the opportunity to fulfill their parents' wishes. Two thirds (66%) of middle class children in the cities attend 'key schools'*, which aim for the majority of their pupils to go on to higher education of some sort. The majority of the rest of the children in the families surveyed by Mintel are attending regular state schools (19%) and 9% are at private fee-paying schools.

Paul French, Chief China Market Strategist at Mintel, said:

"Education is where parents and grandparents start compensating for their own losses first and is central to the Chinese middle class experience and the cornerstone of middle class achievement. While grandparents of the current infant generation will have largely missed out on a formal education beyond high school due to living circumstances, lack of finances or the chaos of the Cultural Revolution period, invariably the parents of today's infant Little Emperors have received a higher education and benefited from that edge in the job market which then financially allows them to live a middle class lifestyle. Simply put, higher education has been a key component to middle class entry, formation and reproduction."

Mintel estimates there to be 35 million Little Emperors in the middle class in China, plus an undefined number in the Golden Collar social class and a fledgling group of Little Emperors in the xiaokang (or the 'comfortably off') social class - adding up to an estimated 50 million or more Little Emperors. Over nine in ten Little Emperors have the luxury of their own bedrooms (rising to 98% of those aged 10-16) which are fully stocked with toys and electronic devices. Linked with assisting studying, desktop, laptop and tablet computers are among the most popular devices - and tablet (47%) ownership is now higher than laptop ownership (44%) among Chinese middle class children. Novelty items such as eReaders are more commonly found in children's bedrooms in tier 1 cities (53% in Beijing) as opposed to tier 2 locations (just 33% in Nanjing).

"China's 'Little Emperors' are the youth of the country's nascent emerging middle class. Growing up in families with higher-than-average discretionary incomes, no siblings and active grandparents, they are the beneficiaries of rising expenditure on children. However, a rigid education system and a heavy burden of expectation means that they are under pressure to succeed while the absence of 'second chance parenting' leads many parents to seek to protect their child through spending on items that they believe will safeguard their future." Paul continues.

However, when not studying, nearly all Little Emperors are consumers in their own right and receive a monthly allowance, with older parents and in particular moms aged 40-49 being the most generous with their offspring (98%). And it seems that today's Little Emperors in China are also spoiled by other generations - as half (50%) of them get pocket money from grandparents, while other family members also play their part (20%). Amount of monthly pocket money is positively correlated with household income. In addition, families living in Beijing appear to be the most generous with their Little Emperors, as over three in ten (31%) give their children pocket money in excess of RMB500 a month.

The Little Emperors are at the forefront of new modern lifestyles - the stroller market has emerged strongly in all the cities surveyed by Mintel – over 80% in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Chengdu – and across all financial brackets of the middle class, perhaps indicating their position, not just as a protection item, but also as a desirable accoutrement to the modern middle class aspirational parenting. Indeed, over eight in ten (86%) middle class urban families own a stroller, with another 12% planning to buy one in the future. 

"Strollers can be seen as a display of wealth, but are also safer for the child to be transported in. As with diapers and suncare products, strollers are not traditional items in China and have been adopted almost solely by the emergent middle class to date. Strollers go with diapers and other modern baby items as products the new middle class want for their Little Emperors." Paul continues.

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