China's consumer market is more segmented than you think, says Goldman.
Photograph by Liu Dawei — Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images
By Scott Cendrowski
March 10, 2016

China’s middle class … just 11% of its population.

Of the country’s 770 million workers, only 2% make enough to qualify to pay income tax. But counting all those hundreds of millions of workers, their average daily spending comes to just $7; U.S. consumers, $97 a day.

Those are a few of the unexpected takeaways from Goldman Sachs’ just-released research on the country’s consumers, who are often described as China’s ascendent mass but in reality are separated socioeconomically into micro groups that don’t fit any single catch-all description.

Chinese consumers break down into four distinct groups, Goldman says: about 1.4 million rich urbanites with incomes above $500,000; 146 million urban middle class with incomes averaging $11,700; another 236 million urban blue collar workers making $5,800 annually; and 387 million rural workers, who bring in just $2,000 a year.

And wow, are they different from U.S. consumers.


Nearly half of Chinese consumers’ income is spent on clothing and food; U.S. consumers spend the same percentage of income on both clothing and food (about 15%) as Chinese spend on clothes alone.

“As disposable incomes rise, those consumption patterns are going to change,” Goldman says. “But affordability will still be an issue, especially for the ‘urban mass.’”

Some of the other key takeaways from the report:

Proportionally, Chinese spend half of what Americans do on recreational activities—like sport, travel, and fitness–but it is one of the clear growth areas (which helps to explain why a company like Adidas AG (addyy) is opening thousands of stores in China despite its slowdown).

China will have 223 million seniors over the age of 65 by 2030 compared to 75 million in the U.S. (with all that that implies for the medical devices and pharma industries).

The middle and ascendant-middle class are the reason for Alibaba’s success—and e-commerce should not stop growing rapidly. There were 10 billion packages delivered in 2014, ten times more than 2006, and again, only 11% of Chinese consumers are middle class.


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