Full time children phenomenon in China

China is witnessing a unique phenomenon—the rise of “full-time children.” Originally coined on the popular Chinese social media site Douban, this term refers to a growing number of young individuals who choose to stay home and receive financial support from their families rather than navigating the increasingly competitive job market. The reasons behind this trend are multifaceted, ranging from a struggling job market to a reevaluation of life goals in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A significant number of young people, primarily in their 20s, have identified with this trend, citing difficulties in finding employment as a driving force. The jobless rate for individuals aged 16 to 24 in urban areas reached a record high of 21.3% last month, contributing to the challenges faced by China’s youth. If one considers the estimated 16 million young people choosing to stay at home or relying on their parents without actively seeking work, the true youth unemployment rate could be as high as 46.5% according to Zhang Dandan, an associate professor at Peking University.

The phenomenon has gained traction on various social media platforms, with thousands of individuals participating in discussions related to their “full-time” lives. On Xiaohongshu, China’s popular lifestyle sharing platform, over 40,000 posts under the “full-time sons and daughters” hashtag highlight the diverse experiences of these individuals. Unlike the previous generation that prioritized career advancement, today’s “professional” children spend time with their parents and contribute to household chores in exchange for financial support.

Sociologists argue that China’s recent traumatic experiences, particularly with strict pandemic measures, have played a role in prompting young people to reconsider their life goals. Fang Xu, a continuing lecturer at the University of California Berkeley, suggests that the desire to spend quality time with loved ones and contemplate the meaning of life remains prevalent among the Chinese population.

However, the trend of “full-time children” is not solely driven by a desire for a more meaningful life. It also reflects the harsh realities of a shrinking job market and fierce competition for opportunities. China’s economic recovery, after an initial burst earlier in the year, has slowed down, impacting the private sector, a significant source of employment. The regulatory crackdown since late 2020 has further exacerbated the challenges faced by young professionals.

While some see the trend of “full-time children” as a short-term solution to provide individuals with a place to live and a source of income, others, like George Magnus from the China Centre at Oxford University and SOAS University of London, caution against its long-term implications. Magnus argues that if young people are not actively participating in the labor market, acquiring skills, and seeking better opportunities, they may become unemployable in the long run.

The emergence of “full-time children” in China reflects a complex interplay of economic challenges, shifting priorities, and a desire for a more balanced and meaningful life. As this trend continues to evolve, it prompts a broader conversation about the future of work, societal expectations, and the impact of external factors on the choices made by the younger generation in China.

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