The Aging Chinese Marketplace: Lessons for Marketers

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This is a subject that Kim Walker, the Asia Pacific 50-plus business expert, knows a lot about. Kim has contributed a chapter, about the ageing of the countries in Asia Pacific, in particular China, to the new version of my book that is being translated in Chinese for publication at the end of this year.

The numbers are staggering.

These are the main observations on the Nielsen blog.

At its youngest—around 1970—nearly 51% of the population of China was under 20 years of age. Two years from now, the share of the Chinese population under the age of 20 will fall below the same share in the U.S., and will continue to fall for the near future.

Today, the median age for the U.S. is 36.6 and China is 34.2.

Marketers entering China will need to evaluate their portfolios very carefully. A mix of brands, targeted to different demographic groups, or those that work well in India or other less-developed nations may struggle in China. Large families with children—typically the biggest market segment available in the less-developed world—are nonexistent in China.

Very few households have more than two children and those with one greatly outnumber those with two. As the population ages and the gender ratio becomes more imbalanced, household sizes will continue to shrink and the share of households that have children will continue to fall. This means less variance in the buying rate for products that rely on use by multiple family members for volume. Gaining new users and the retention of current users will be far more important strategies than seeking to grow volume within existing users.

Lessons marketers learn in the more-developed world about targeting older consumers should pay dividends in China. By around 2038, there will be as many persons over the age of 65 in China as there are young persons under the age of 20. After 2038, older consumers will outnumber younger ones. Marketers who can tap these older generations could do very well.

An area not covered by Nielsen is the migration of the population from rural to urban areas. This is having the effect of depleting the countryside of young people resulting in extreme concentrations of older people.

Faced with a population ageing at an unprecedented rate, China may grow old before it has a chance of reaching widespread prosperity. This quote (from 2004) says it all: "Today’s great powers became affluent before they became ageing societies, China may be the first major country to grow old before it grows rich."

Image source:Ed Yourdon

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