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Ambitious, Educated, Liberated, Lonely, Lethargic: Meet China’s Cosmopolitan, Childless and Contradictory Zoomers

China Trading Desk’s latest 1,900-person survey dives deep into the minds of China’s GenZ, comparing the dreams, friendships, consumption patterns and opinions of this 280-million-strong generation with their GenY and GenX counterparts, finding an educated, ambitious, cosmopolitan and contradictory cohort, following in footsteps of the Middle Kingdom’s Millennials and bucking the traditions of its GenXers.


China’s mighty Millennials are a growing global economic force that’s too little understood by global brands, trying to understand their consumer preferences.

 

But even less understood—and no less important for foreign companies looking to build long-term growth inside the world’s largest market is GenY’s younger counterparts: GenZ.

 

Born between 1996 and 2010, there are 280 million Chinese Zoomers—the second largest GenZ in the world, second only to India.

 

In an unprecedented new survey of more than 1,900 Chinese across three generations–GenX, GenY and GenZ–conducted in January 2024, China Trading Desk explored their aspirations, sexuality, friendships, housing, worries, tastes (literally and metaphorically), consumption patterns, educations, modes of transportation, entertainment rituals and much more to compare and contrast China’s Zoomers with their older counterparts.

 

So Who are they?

 

A picture is emerging from our data of an urbanized, cosmopolitan, educated, ambitious, cost-conscious, childless, liberated, lonely, lethargic and paradoxical generation. 

 

Zoomers, particularly young adventure-seeking women, are changing patterns of Chinese foreign travel away from traditional destinations like Thailand and Japan and towards South Korea, Europe and Singapore–and redefining Chinese femininity in the process; Zoomers continue flocking to China’s biggest cities–that is, Tier 1 and Tier 2–much like Millennials have; they’re more open about their sexuality; marriage is less of a life’s goal; they’re worried about the costs of having kids and its impact on their careers; they love going to theaters to watch movies;  they’re less interested in Chinese-made goods like its traditional liquor; and somewhat paradoxically, they have fewer close friends and yet they’re also socializing a lot; they care about China’s role in climate change and yet they want big (and increasingly foreign) cars; they love America’s fried chicken but not its cars.

 

Here are some highlights of China Trading Desk’s full report:


  • Urbanized:

Zoomers like big cities.


While a majority (54%) of GenXers live in small cities (Tier 3), a majority of Zoomers (56%) live in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities–that is, cities with more than 3 million people. Gen Z follows a similar trajectory as Gen Y, with a growing presence in China’s largest cities indicating their inclination towards urbanization and aspirations for success and advancement in bustling urban hubs.



  • Educated:

China's GenZ is highly educated.


Millennials and Zoomers are both highly educated. Around half of both generations have bachelor’s degrees. But Zoomers are outpacing Millennials in graduate degrees. Despite being younger, Zoomers are 22% more likely to have master’s degrees or above compared to Millennials. Among GenXers, 34% have bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Nearly twice as many (60%) Millennials and Zoomers have undergraduate or graduate degrees.






  • Liberated:

GenZ is more comfortable with their sexuality than older generations, particularly compared with GenX. 8% of GenZers disclosed they were homosexual or bisexual. That was nearly 3X more than the share of GenYers and GenXers who said they were gay or bisexual. Notably, more than 10% of GenXers refused to answer questions about their sexuality--double the number of Millennials and Zoomers who refused to answer.



  • Lonely–yet also social

China’s Zoomers might be a little lonely.

China's GenZers live alone and have fewer friends relative to their GenX and GenY counterparts.


Almost twice as many GenZers live alone than GenXers, and Zoomers are 48% more likely to live alone than Millennials. Because Zoomers are younger and less likely to be married, those differences might not be that surprising.


But what is surprising is how less likely they are to have many friends.


GenX and GenY are 50% more likely to have more than 7 close friends; and GenZ is 23% more likely to say they only have 1 to 3 close friends.


That said, the Zoomers with friends are certainly social. About 17% of Zoomers are going out three to four times per week–be it to restaurants, bars, concerts, movies, etc. That’s roughly the same as Millennials and double the share of GenXers who do.


Zoomers are also moviegoers. They’re 32% more likely to have seen a movie in theater in the past week compared to Millennials and twice as likely as GenXers.



  • Marriage and Kids Losing Luster

GenZ just isn’t as interested in getting married and having kids as GenY and GenX. GenZ was twice as likely to say getting married was not a life goal of theirs–that is, 44% vs 22% compared to Millennials. That could change as they age, but the large divergence could point to even slower population growth in the Middle Kingdom.


In fact, GenZ females are eighteen times more likely to say they don’t want children because they’re focused on their careers compared to GenY females.


What’s an even bigger disincentive for Zoomer females weighing having children or not is the cost of living in big cities. Consider that 91% of Zoomer females say financial considerations are why they don’t want children versus 9% of Millenials females.


  • A Little Lethargic:

Don’t call them lazy. They’re very ambitious. Just look at their education levels and focus on their careers. But …both GenY and GenZ don't exercise as often as GenX. That might be more a function of their busier workloads than an aversion to fitness, but the difference is still striking.

More than 70% of GenY and GenZ report working out fewer than 2 hours per week while 46 % of GenXers work out less than 2 hours. In fact, GenXers are 3X more likely to work out more than 5 hours per week than GenY and they're 6X more likely than GenZ to do so. That is, while nearly 20% of GenXers report working out more than 5 hours per week; only 3 % of GenZers do.



  • Climate, Cars and Contradictions:

GenX, GenY and GenZ care about the environment. They all want China to reduce emissions. About 90% of GenX, GenY and GenZ want China to limit its carbon emissions. But … both GenY and GenZ want big cars.


While less than 30% of GenXers dream of buying SUVs, more than 50% of GenY and more than 40% of GenZ want to buy SUVs.


Among car owners--not just dreamers--exactly twice as many GenYers have SUVs than GenXers today; and 71% more GenZers have SUVs than GenXers.

  • Cosmopolitan:

When it comes to cars, travel and alcohol, GenZers are looking outside of China.


Asked what kind of car they'd like to buy, almost 80% of GenXers said they'd like a car made in China; but less than half of GenY and GenZ said the same. What do GenY and GenZ want? They’re a lot more interested in German and Japanese cars. While GenY and GenZ prefer Chinese cars more than any other country’s, there’s a big difference across demographics. More than twice as many GenZers and Millennials want German cars versus GenXers; and three times as many GenY and GenZers want Japanese cars compared to GenX.


What don't GenX, GenY and GenZ want? They don't want American cars. Only 2% of GenX, GenY and GenZ want American autos.


Importantly, there’s still a big opportunity for automakers with GenZ. That’s because 35% of them still don’t know what kind of cars they want, more than any other generation.


Beyond just cars, though, GenZ is losing interest in traditional Chinese liquor–baijiu, a grain alcohol. Beer is the favorite drink of all generations. But after beer, there’s some major differences across generations. GenX is 3X more likely to say their favorite alcohol is baijiu vs only 10% of GenZ and 20% of GenY. Sparkling wine has gained favor with young Chinese who are more than twice as likely to say Champagne or sparkling wine is their second favorite alcohol vs GenX. 


  • Korea > Thailand

Young Chinese women–especially Zoomers and to lesser extent Millennials–are driving outbound travel and changing the pattern of Chinese tourism.

China’s Zoomers are far more interested in South Korea than their older counterparts, particularly GenXers. Last year, when Zoomers traveled outside of China, more went to Korea than any other country. GenZ was more than twice as likely to visit Korea than GenX. GenZ was even more interested in Korea than Millennials who made that country their second-most visited destination. Thailand–a traditional favorite of GenX and older tourists–has taken the hit from GenZ’s changing tastes, seeing a much slower rebound from pre-pandemic levels.


But wait, there’s more:


This is a snippet of our broader report, which compares GenZ to GenY and GenX across dozens of more variables–from their favorite foods, their commutes, their tastes in fashion and self-care, among many other factors providing unparalleled insight into the Middle Kingdom’s Zoomers as well as GenXers and Millennials.


For the full picture of how China’s GenZ compares, please contact us.

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