One Chart Explains Why China’s 190M Seniors Aren’t Spending


There are lots of articles about the aging of China – and about seniors as a massive consumer demographic. And this is true.

  • According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2013 China had 190M people above 60 years old, about 13% of the population..
  • This demographic is expected to increase to 24% of the population by 2030. This will put Chinese seniors at the same percentage as most developed countries – and would mean an overall increase to 345M seniors.
  • China will soon be the most aged of the BRIC countries and will have the largest elderly population on the planet.

The problem is this big consumer demographic just isn’t spending. And the reason why is shown in the below graphic.


Compare China on the right with the US on the left. It is almost an inverse of income by age. There is a huge drop-off in income for Chinese over age 45. And we would see the same picture if we compared to virtually any other G20 country. Older Chinese consumers are not wealthy.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Most people in China now over age 55-60 had many working years during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). This gave them colorful stories but little wealth and few marketable skills.
  • Afterwards, many wound up in State enterprises, many of which were then shut down. SOEs were also not a big opportunity for wealth creation.

What’s more. These experiences ingrained in the Chinese elderly a visceral frugality, not unlike the generation of Americans who lived through the Great Depression. Not only do they have low incomes but they are very frugal.

So if your business is selling something to Chinese seniors, don’t get caught up in the big demographic numbers. This population doesn’t have a lot of money and generally won’t spend it anyways. Dreams of selling millions of nutrition drinks and senior housing units in China have, by and large, not come true.

That said, this is a historical anomaly and will disappear over time. And as this happens, the incomes of Chinese seniors should grow faster than other groups.

Thanks for reading – Jeff


I write (and speak) about how rising Chinese consumers are disrupting global markets. (#ConsumerChina). This also includes work on:

  • China 2025″ – what a region transformed by Chinese consumers, companies and capital is going to look like. (#China2025)

Photo by Joey Huang on Unsplash


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