Monday, June 24, 2024

What are ‘full-time children’ jobs? Why do Chinese youth spurn formal work?

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As the new trend becomes more common in China, the Post explains what makes it so appealing to young adults and why it might help ease China’s burden as the population ages.

Not ‘boomerang kids’

Some observers dismiss the trend as merely a reinvention of the pejorative phrase ken lao or “the generation that eats the old” that emerged in the 2000s. Often labelled as “boomerang kids” or Neet (not in education, employment, or training), experts say full-time children are not necessarily a new phenomenon.

Yet one important difference is that many of these full-time children have pushed hard to advance their “careers” and the current generation is treating parent caregiving like a traditional job that requires a high level of availability and emotional labour.

Full-time children usually undertake household chores, attend to their parents’ daily needs and activities, and manage all electronic-related tasks. Photo: Shutterstock

One description of the full-time child role stated, “You must always be on call, reply to parents’ WeChat messages, and answer phone calls anytime and anywhere. Never say no, even to the smallest issues. Always chat with them, and use hand-holding or hugs to show emotional support. Always initiate reconciliation during disputes.”

Nianan, a 40-year-old woman who is a full-time daughter, said her daily routine includes an hour of dancing with her parents in the morning, accompanying them on trips to the grocery store, and cooking dinner with her father in the evenings.

Additionally, she handles all electronics-related tasks at home, acts as the family chauffeur, and organises one or two family trips each month.

In return, Nianan earns 4,000 yuan (US$550) per month, which is below the typical salary of around 6,000 yuan, considered a solid middle-class wage in some regions of China.

The typical earnings of full-time children vary from 3,000 to 6,000 yuan, with the figure shifting depending on the generosity of individuals.

Exhausted by rat race

With 11.79 million university graduates entering the workforce in China this year, youngsters see the role of “full-time children” as a relief to the competitive and demanding job market, where they battle over few opportunities that often demand long working hours.

Last year, the unemployment rate among the 16-24 age group rose for six consecutive months, reaching a record high of 21.3 per cent last June.

Young people facing this difficult employment environment have adopted mindsets like “lying flat” or “let it rot”, similar to that of full-time children in their pessimism about the state of the Chinese job market.

However, not every full-time child is nihilistic, and many full-time children dedicate their spare time to studying for the country’s fiercely competitive graduate or civil service exams.

A full-time daughter shared on Douban that she spent three years working for her parents, and finally passed the exam for a public school teacher’s job.

“Three years felt so long, filled with struggles over choices, uncertainties about the future, and the fortunate unconditional support from my family,” she wrote.

The average income of full-time children typically falls between 3,000 and 6,000 yuan (US$830), with variations based on parental generosity. Credit: Shutterstock

Not sustainable solution

China is facing a rapidly ageing population, and one potential benefit of full-time children is that they could alleviate some of the pressures the demographic crisis will place on Chinese social services.

Data shows that in the next decade, nearly one-third of the population, or 400 million people, will leave China’s workforce.

“In China, parents are more emotionally dependent on their children, while children are more financially dependent on their parents,” said Liu Wenrong, a researcher from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, in an interview with online news outlet Sixth Tone.

However, experts warned that full-time children are not a sustainable solution to job scarcity and a growing elderly population.

“My biggest reminder to parents is that you must kick your kids out of your home or you are going to ruin them,” Chen Zhiwen, an education researcher, told the Post in February 2024.

Amid the dynamics of long-term cohabitation, tensions inevitably arise between full-time children and their parents.

One full-time daughter was confronted by her frustrated parents after six months working at home.

They said: “You haven’t succeeded in your postgraduate exams, nor secured a government job, and you struggle in employment. At 25, you’re still single. What have you achieved? Each of your peers has surpassed you.”

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