As more women in China pursue tertiary education, participate in the workforce, and delay starting families, their spending power has increased. And they’re using the extra money to invest in themselves and drive growth in their favorite categories, including luxury fashion, fitness, and pet accessories.
With March 8 being International Women’s Day, Jing Daily looks at the ways Chinese women are spending their money and shaping the country’s “she economy.”
Chinese women smash glass ceilings
It should come as no surprise that Chinese women are among the planet’s most influential consumer groups, given that China is the world’s second largest economy.
Broadly speaking, women in Asia hold more wealth than women in any other region except North America. China alone is responsible for two-thirds of the world’s self-made female billionaires, ahead of the US and UK. According to global consultancy Accenture, China is home to nearly 400 million female consumers aged 20 to 60, who account for as much as $1.4 trillion (10 trillion RMB) in spending annually.
Chinese women still face many challenges, such as discrimination in the workplace, income inequality, unfair societal expectations, and even government pressure to uphold family values. However, they are proving that they don’t need a man or a family to fulfill their needs and find happiness. As various consumer reports show, they are making their own money, buying their own gifts, taking care of their own wellbeing — and looking good while doing it.
Single women treat themselves
China’s marriage and birth rates are at an all-time low. In 2022, China’s population declined for the first time in six decades, with the birth rate falling to 6.77 births per 1,000 people from 7.52 the previous year. Even though Chinese cities are rolling out various incentives to boost the fertility rate — such as giving newlyweds 30 days of paid leave or offering subsidies for births — women aren’t taking up the offer. In addition to the prohibitive costs of raising kids, having a family is often seen as a hindrance to career growth and even a reason for discrimination, particularly in China’s cut-throat work environment.
What this means is Chinese women are increasingly likely to spend on themselves. According to a study by JD.com’ the proportion of women’s consumption for their own needs, rather than for their families, was 54 percent in 2021, with luxury items, education and training, tourism, and health services being the main beneficiaries.
This trend is apparent in jewelry, where luxury products are used as a signifier of financial success. Although the number of Chinese women who acquired diamond jewelry for the first time declined in 2020 due to the pandemic, those buying diamonds were wealthier, boosting average spending by 33 percent compared with 2018, reports De Beers.
Women are also the key purchasers of gold jewelry in China, states the World Gold Council, which expects their demand to rebound now that the country has dropped its stringent COVID-19 policies.
Women drive family purchasing decisions
Meanwhile, women who do choose to have families are responsible for three-quarters of household purchasing decisions, says a 2020 HSBC report. JD.com found that Chinese female shoppers are more likely to acquire high-tech household appliances for their families, such as washing machines, floor-cleaning robots, and dishwashers, and have a stronger preference for energy-saving products, making them an important target audience for home gadget brands.
This shopping habit extends to fur families, too. A Bain report finds that 45 percent of new pet owners in China were born in the 1990s and 60 percent are female. These young women view pets as extended family members and are willing to dote on them, driving average per-pet spending on food up 15 percent over the last six years, reports Alibaba. During the 2022 Single’s Day Festival, premium pet food (products costing over $7 per kg) outpaced the animal food category as a whole, showing that Chinese women only want the best for their fur babies. High-end pet accessories and even Hanfu pet outfits have also emerged to meet this need.
Women invest in personal growth and wellness
Women are prioritizing self-development and improvement, whether that be physical or mental. In 2022, women on JD.com spent 1.43 times more than men on fitness and outdoor gear, while their spending on education and training-related products increased 30 percent year over year.
In 2022, Chinese fitness chain LeFit not only found that female members made up the majority of its membership (54 percent), but that the frequency they worked out and purchased courses was higher than male users. With women narrowing the gap with men in the sports consumption market, brands like Lululemon (named the best yoga wear brand by Hurun in 2023) and Maia Active that cater to this consumer group have benefited.
At the same time, women care about taking care of their appearance. According to a CBNData survey, 93 percent of women want “a natural and delicate beauty,” so they focus heavily on skin health. Given this, facial products that offer natural ingredients, long-term repair and anti-aging properties have received the most attention, such as La Mer’s The Concentrate Serum and Clarin’s Double Serum.
Moreover, a 2023 Alimama report states that 89 percent of female shoppers believe technology boosts the efficacy of skincare products, benefiting innovative brands like Shiseido and Proya Cosmetics.
Women want to be represented
Chinese women today express themselves in a variety of ways. Just look at the diverse styles going viral on Xiaohongshu, where over 85 percent of users are women: Girly Y2K fits, sporty blokecore looks, and gender-neutral ensembles fit for the alpha female have racked up millions of views. In 2022, over 540,000 posts on personal style were shared on Xiaohongshu, with young people “starting to put aside body anxiety” to “focus on developing diverse personal styles,” states the platform.
In addition to creating collections or marketing around these trends, brands can also communicate with local consumers by addressing women’s issues. Gender equality, body acceptance, societal pressures and other topics have come to the forefront of popular culture, reflected in the success of TV shows like Sisters Who Make Waves and Hear Her, which focus on women’s narratives. Rising visibility and changing values have prompted brands like Neiwai to launch campaigns that embrace the concept of women breaking free of traditions, while others like Fresh and Victoria’s Secret have appointed untypical ambassadors to redefine beauty standards.