A Tale of Two Millennials: India and China


Jing Daily illustration. Photo: Zijun Shi

Today’s 1.8 billion millennial population, the 22 to 37-year-olds just reaching their peak spending bracket, makes up the world’s most powerful consumer group. They are the core business of most of the world’s companies; they dictate the design and marketing of most products and services worldwide.

Millennials in China (415 million) and India (440 million) make up 47 percent of the world’s millennial population, and together, they’ll be the leading authors of our 21st-century narrative.

The two Asian cohorts seem to have a lot in common. Both live in societies that pressure their young to do well in academics, find a good job, and marry by a certain age. They are groups—much like American Baby Boomers in their youth—that have far more opportunities and resources at their disposal than their parents.

These millennials are the first upwardly mobile generation in their respective countries. Previous generations were born in small villages (China) and/or social castes (India) but that’s changed with modernization. Young people, according to Santosh Desai, Managing Director of Indian Brand Advisory Group Futurebrands, used to be “born something” but now can “become something”.

The driver of this change is consumption or – in other words – the activities, travel destinations, brands, and products that millennials wholeheartedly partake of to define who they are and what they’ll become.

Unlike their western counterparts, Asian millennials seem confident they’ll live a better life than their parents.

However, despite their similarities, India and China’s millennials have evolved in markedly different ways, and there are key differences between the two markets. Chinese millennials, for instance, have larger average disposable incomes, but other distinctions also set them apart.

1. Modernization (and colonization) in India has led to greater integration with the west, but less so in China

India has 22 regional languages as opposed to China’s one official Mandarin dialect. But widespread use of English (although still associated with a level of elitism) dates back to the heyday of the British Empire. Because of this, English has been the official fall-back language of Indians, something that has integrated them into Western culture. Indian millennials grew up watching American sitcoms or reading western literature, in some cases adopting English as a first language.

Chinese millennials, however, can’t use the Worldwide Web thanks to their country’s internet firewall, all while Indian millennials wander through the same social media and entertainment platforms the rest of the world enjoys: Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and more.

Content in China’s digital and entertainment sphere is almost entirely in Mandarin, but that doesn’t mean Chinese millennials aren’t aware of what’s going on in the world. They seek global-citizen status as much as Indian millennials do, and global news breaks on Weibo at the same time as Twitter. And despite China’s restrictions, it’s still estimated that a huge population of young people in China are able to use virtual private networks to access Western internet sites.

2. Chinese millennials appear to have a greater sense of national pride and confidence than Indian millennials

The economic growth in China—led by tech companies, e-commerce, and manufacturing—is unparalleled in human history, and Chinese millennials take great pride in their international recognition. Between 1990 and 2016, China’s GDP has grown 25 times as compared to India’s 4.2 times (not to mention America’s 2.5 times.) Indian millennials simply haven’t witnessed this kind of growth or status in their lifetime. China’s pace of change, or “China Speed” as it’s been called, is nothing like what the Indian millennials have experienced.

3. Both countries offer societal pressure, but different kinds

China’s young generation are single children who come with an inverted family pyramid—each child having two parents and four grandparents. It’s a generation spoiled with attention and resources (with children often earning the title “young emperor”) but one also feeling immense pressure to live up to their family’s expectations.

Indian millennials, however, feel a different kind of pressure thanks to their top-heavy educational system where competition to get into elite schools is fierce and often too much to handle [reference look up-easier to get into Harvard than in IIT Delhi]. In India, education is the main ladder for social mobility, and the millennial generation has grown up under tremendous family pressure to do well academically.

4. The Chinese millennial lives in a digital world

Chinese millennials don’t even use cash anymore, they use mobile phones (Alipay or WeChat pay) to pay for everything from sweet potatoes on the street to down payments on luxury cars in a 4S showroom. This massive fin-tech eruption has set the Chinese millennial apart from any other. It’s been estimated that China makes almost half of the world’s digital payments. With the ability to adopt new technology trends rapidly, it’s common for apps in China to go from high buzz to death in a matter of months.

China’s youngsters are also very happy to blend e-commerce with their social media and net-based entertainment. Seeking information and opinions in an online world, the Chinese millennial is more influenced by influencers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) than any other country, and it’s a trend that’s only growing.

As the world’s most powerful spending group, who influences these consumers is essential to brands. Ensuring the most effective way to reach them is vital for sustainable growth.


–This article originally appeared on Jing Daily