China’s youth unemployment spurs a “full-time children” trend

China's economy is growing, sure, but it hasn’t bounced back from COVID as quickly as people had hoped.

China’s youth unemployment spurs a “full-time children” trend
People attend a job fair in a mall in Beijing, China June 30, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

For some of us, the idea of getting paid to spend time at home with family sounds like a dream come true. But that’s not what China’s “full-time children” trend is really about.

China's economy is growing, sure, but it hasn’t bounced back from COVID as quickly as people had hoped. This issue has been affecting younger people especially. Some are giving in to "lying flat" (a trendy phrase to refer to keeping a simple life rather than pursuing the career grind) and living off of their parents after college, losing hope in finding suitable positions.

According to China’s official statistics, about 20% of its 16- to 24-year-olds were jobless this past March. But, Peking University professor Zhang Dandan says that this unemployment rate could’ve actually been close to 50% if the 6 million non-students not actively seeking work were also accounted for.

"Employment there only recovered to two-thirds of pre-COVID levels till March, when COVID faded," Zhang wrote in her report, which was published in Caixin magazine. "Young people remain major workers in the manufacturing sector, so they were hit more badly."

For some, the job search and pressure of employment are getting to be so frustrating that they’ve decided to become “full-time children.” This role usually includes moving back home with parents, taking care of household duties and chores and caring for elderly or younger members of the family. Grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, running errands and other duties are all a part of this job. And these 20-somethings are often getting paid by their parents to do it.

It looks like there are two types of youngsters who have decided to take a breather and become full-time children – those who have become burnt out by intense and exhausting jobs and those who just can’t find success in the current job market. The term “full-time sons and daughters” started cropping up late last year, first on the Chinese social media site Douban. It’s quickly caught on since then. And there are tens of thousands of young people choosing to go this route.

But not everyone is supportive of the trend. Some of these full-time children have been accused of "chewing the old” or basically mooching off their parents.
Lu Xi, an assistant professor in public policy at the National University of Singapore, says this idea could actually end up hurting the Chinese economy even more. "In the absence of additional job creation, the phenomenon of 'full-time children' will be exacerbated, creating a vicious cycle," he explains. "The average disposable income of households will be reduced, resulting in a decline in overall social consumption, which in turn limits the social capacity to create new jobs, creating more unemployment, and thus, more full-time children.”