‘Not just about receiving a salary’: Why some adults in China have become ‘full-time’ children


HANGZHOU: Since the start of the year, vlogger Zhang Jiayi’s typical working day has looked like this: Talking morning walks with her parents, accompanying them to the market for groceries, preparing lunch, then taking a nap before tending to other chores.

The 31-year-old is a “full-time daughter”, a concept — and social media hashtag — that has surfaced as China’s youth unemployment in cities hits record levels.

Her parents pay her 8,000 yuan (S$1,500) a month. It is 20 per cent less than what graduates in her city of Hangzhou can expect, said Zhang, who used to sell clothes until the business succumbed to the pandemic.

The work of a full-time child, however, “isn’t just about receiving a salary or any form of compensation from parents”, she added. “It’s about genuinely enjoying the process of being with your parents and wanting to be there for them.”

That said, her salary from them is “well deserved”, she told the programme Money Mind in its special on youth unemployment in China.

Unemployment among 16- to 24-year-olds in China’s urban areas rose to 21.3 per cent in June, compared with 4.1 per cent among those aged 25 to 59, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

As a new cohort of 11.6 million graduates join the workforce this summer, the figure could rise further.

China’s shaky economic recovery after lengthy pandemic lockdowns is partly to blame for the plight of its youth, although there are other reasons too, experts said.

Tertiary education enrolment increased from 30 per cent in 2012 to nearly 60 per cent last year, official figures show.

“They’re being educated and brought up for high-end jobs — tech jobs or jobs that require higher education,” said Nancy Qian, the James J O’Connor Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at Northwestern University in the United States.

The economic slowdown means those jobs are “shorter and shorter in supply”.

Zhu Hong, a professor of marketing and e-commerce at Nanjing University’s business school, said: “Our industrial structure hasn’t yet completed the shift from labour-intensive and low-end to high value-added technology or high-level service industries.”

As a result, “many graduates”, including master’s degree holders, are working as ride-hailing drivers and food delivery workers, she cited.

Zhu has even come across graduates from prestigious schools like Tsinghua University applying for sanitation jobs that “typically require only a high school or junior high school education”.

Another reason for the unemployment level is the tighter regulations, since 2021, on several sectors that are major employers of youths, said Bernard Aw, chief economist for Asia Pacific at credit insurer Coface.

These include the real estate, financial and private education sectors, and the tightening has meant a decline in jobs available to youths, he said.

The current situation prompted Chinese President Xi Jinping to exhort youths to be willing to “eat bitterness”, as quoted in the official People’s Daily newspaper on Youth Day in May.

Money Mind found out how three Chinese youths are navigating the realities of the job market.


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