China’s rising unmarried population has been a center-of-attention social phenomenon for the past five years. It is estimated that the number of Chinese people who would have been married by now in previous generations had reached 200 million at the end of 2015 and has now surpassed the total population of the United Kingdom and Russia combined.
“Singles today generally have a higher and rising disposable income, and tend to focus and spend on themselves,” said Prophet’s Asia partner Jacqueline Thng during an interview with the South China Morning Post. She pointed out that this quality makes the “young and unwed” great target customers for luxury brands. However, this does not mean differentiated marketing is an easy task.
Being single, it seems, has kind of become a taboo in China, and an ignition that fires up conflicts between millennials and their parents’ generation. Words such as “leftover women” and “loser boys” come up frequently in Chinese pop culture, all painting a negative image of the unwed.
This relatively recent social issue is a uniquely sensitive one in China because of its history with the “one child policy” that has roots dating back to the post-Mao era of half a century ago. As a result of the traditional preference for male over female progeny, there are 34 million more men in China than women in 2017. The imbalance between the male and female populations has been accentuated as the last generation born under the policy is currently coming of age and there are presumably millions of men who won’t be able to find a Chinese wife.
On the bright side, no matter if men are single by choice or not, according to Thng, the “young and unwed” should be a driving force in luxury consumption. “Luxury brands are symbols of status and seen as better brand experiences – for singles in China, this means more opportunities for affordable luxury and brands in many categories,” she said, “from beauty and apparel to fine dining and travel.”
According to the World Economic Forum, 18 percent of China’s population are now middle class, and on a global scale, upper-middle-class who are 35 or younger spend 40 percent more on purchasing than their counterpart in the previous generation.
Among urban residents, 21 percent of people older than 35 are single, compared to four percent just a decade ago, according to a report issued by Alibaba’s research sector. The same report also suggests that the trend points to a growing demand for different types of products, including furniture designed for single studios, smaller appliances, and food sold in smaller packaging.
However, this kind of differentiated marketing, if not handled properly, could make single people feel left out and discriminate against, according to a survey done by market research company Mintel.
“Brands should focus on providing services that can equip singles with a sense of security and make them feel protected, cared for, understood and safe,” says the Mintel report, “especially in the areas where they have difficulties managing on their own.”