26 March 2019
Sales of vitamins and dietary supplements in mainland China have boomed in recent years. Photo: internet
Sales of vitamins and dietary supplements in mainland China have boomed in recent years. Photo: internet

What mainland Chinese consumers earn and spend

Mainland China’s working population, 770.4 million people, is the largest in the world.

But the middle class that dominates its consumer market still accounts for a tiny fraction of that number: less than 2 percent of workers earn enough to pay income tax, Goldman Sachs figures show.

The creation of at least 10 million urban jobs — one of the goals announced at this week’s annual meeting of the National People’s Congress — will affect only a small proportion of the population, but will still mean a considerable boost to the size of the middle class, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

So, while China’s taste for luxury goods may attract more attention, the country’s appetite for staples says more about daily life for most people.

Here is a snapshot of how Chinese consumers are living today:

Most Chinese still earn and spend much less than Americans

Beijing recently overtook New York as the “billionaire capital of the world”, and country-to-city migration is at its highest level in recent history.

But mainland China’s average annual wage was 56,360 yuan (US$8,655) in 2014, and Goldman Sachs estimates that 387 million rural workers — half the working population — earn about US$2,000 a year.

The average Chinese consumer spends US$7 a day, the firm’s figures show.

Food and clothing make up nearly half of all personal spending, and 9.2 percent is allocated to recreational activities like travel, dining out, sports and video games.

The average American spends US$97 a day, 17.3 percent of it on recreation.

Families are smaller than ever before

There were fewer than three people in the average mainland Chinese household in 2014, down from about five in the 1950s.

The gender imbalance in China is also the worst in the world: about 116 boys are born for every 100 girls, against a global average of 107 boys to 100 girls.

Between 1979 and late 2015, the country imposed a limit of one child on most Chinese families, and skewed gender ratios date back to the early 1980s.

China now has 33 million more men than women; many of those men may never find a partner.

Among the working-age population, single people and smaller households tend to have more discretionary spending power.

Travelers abroad are few — but they spend a lot

Only 4 percent of mainland Chinese hold a passport, compared with 35 percent of Americans — but that 4 percent spend almost US$200 billion overseas annually, more than people from any other country, Goldman Sachs figures show.

China’s urban middle class dominates tourism spending, and Goldman Sachs expects 12 percent of the population to hold a passport within a decade.

China’s middle class loves music

Mainland Chinese spend an average of US$86 a year on music-related activities, while US$152 is the U.S. average.

Streaming services are used by 66 percent of Chinese consumers, and 71 percent of more affluent ones; by comparison, 75 percent of Americans listen to music online in a typical week, Nielsen reports.

Fifty-seven percent of China’s middle class enjoys live music, compared with 51 percent of the U.S. population overall.

Online shopping is growing fast

Online shopping in mainland China accounts for US$672 billion, or 16 percent of all spending — and about half of that is done on mobile devices, a study by eMarketer, a market research company, found.

In 2013, China accounted for 35 percent of the world’s total online shopping.

By 2018, it is estimated that China’s online spending will exceed that of the rest of the world combined and will account for one in every five yuan spent in China.

Chinese are spending more and more on health

Between 2004 and 2011, mainland China’s personal healthcare spending more than doubled, growing to an annual US$102.25 a person from US$51.05, as consumers became wealthier and government policies raised awareness of health issues.

Sales of vitamins and dietary supplements have boomed in recent years.

China’s 12th five-year development plan, announced in 2011, was the first to mention the nutrition and health food industry.

Market research company Mintel expects sales of vitamins and dietary supplements to hit US$5.3 billion by 2017 — a 214 percent jump from a decade earlier.

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