BEIJING — A recently released report by government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has revealed that 55 percent of Beijing residents, 51 percent of people in Shanghai, and 42.5 percent Guangzhou residents can be classified as middle class.
The “social blue paper,” compiled by CASS, outlined the average wages and spending habits of the growing middle class in three of the country’s tier-one cities.
The average annual income of the middle class is reported to be around 200,000 yuan, $30,800 at current exchange, which is 3.5 times the average of the lower strata. Beijing’s middle class citizens collect the highest average middle class wage at 256,016 yuan, or $39,600 at current exchange, a year. The average middle class wage in Shanghai is 219,770 yuan, or $33,662, a year, and in Guangzhou 170,037 yuan, or $26,199, a year.
The figures were carried in a report on China’s official press agency Xinhua, which also reported that Zhang Haidong, a Shanghai University professor who participated in the research, said more than 60 percent of the middle class are homeowners and more than half own cars. Only 14 percent from groups below the medium strata have cars.
The report noted that the majority of middle class citizens work in the private sector. It also revealed that an average middle class citizen reads 12 books a year, and 62 percent buy food in supermarkets, compared to 37.6 percent of people categorized in a lower bracket.
The findings represent the vast societal shift currently taking place in the country. When the think tank compared people’s awareness of their social status today to five years ago, it found that 40 percent of interviewees in Beijing and 61 percent in Shanghai now identify themselves as middle class, whereas previously only 30 percent in Beijing and 48 percent in Shanghai did so.
Andrea Fenn, founder of Fireworks, a digital consulting agency specializing in the fashion and luxury sector, believes that the growth of China’s middle class is having a massive impact on those industries. “It has been a driver to a change in perception from a focus on ‘status’ to a focus on ‘meaning.’ We have been talking for years about how Chinese consumers are moving away from bling, but recently economic indicators are finally supporting this,” he said.
The tastes of discerning shoppers and early adopters in top-tier cities are changing, and the evolution of the average Chinese consumer is not always proving to be a positive development for all retail brands in the country.
“Big logo brands have dramatically reduced store openings or shut shops all around China — Prada shut 14 stores in 2015 — and the brands that are getting traction are the so-called alternative or light luxury brands: Brands with smaller popularity, but stronger personality, that consumers choose because they want to be different from the mass and not anymore because they want to be recognized,” said Fenn.