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Little Emperors

20 June 2013

China recently overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy and continues to play an essential and powerful role in today’s global economy. Paradoxically, offering one of the world’s biggest markets, China’s university graduates have an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent, according to Wall Street Journal. International Business Times. This states that during this year’s mid-April, “only 28.24 percent of Beijing’s 2013 graduates had found jobs and Shanghai’s graduates fared only slightly better at 44.4 percent”. On the other hand, companies in China report that graduates have been rejecting their offers. Firms have been struggling to find workers from the pool of, according to the New York Times, “picky college graduates”. So what then is the reason for the graduate unemployment crisis in China? I believe this phenomenon has a strong correlation to China’s flawed one-child policy.

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 in order to control China’s population growth. This policy has effectively decreased China’s birth rate. For example, Shanghai’s total fertility rate is 0.7, which basically means that almost no families in Shanghai have more than one child. However, this policy has also led China toward the pressure of the skewed sex ratio among newborns, due to a traditional Chinese belief that it is important to have a male to continue the family lineage. According to a sociology doctoral student at Tsinghua University, today, 117.7 boys are born for every 100 girls, which is well abovethe danger zone. Yet, this is not the only issue.

A behavioral economist from Monash University, Australia, Lisa Cameron is interested in how a child’s characteristics can be affected being the only child in a Chinese family. After her and her colleagues experiments on people who were born before and after 1979 in Beijing, using economic games, she concludes that children who are born under the one-child policy are “substantially more pessimistic, less conscientious, and possibly more neurotic”. A social aspect of the one-child policy is the child often receives excessive amount of attention and indulgence from his or her parents which can potentially lead to the underdevelopment of the child’s independency. According to Professor Cameron, the one-child policy has created a generation of “Little Emperors”.

HongYuan Furniture’s vice general manager Ms. Ni Bingbing captures today’s Chinese graduate’s mentality by reporting, “their parents and their grandparents give them money; they have six people to support them… They say, why do I need to work? I can stay home and get 2,000 RMB (326 USD) a month, why should I get on a bus every day to earn 2,500 (407 USD) a month?”

In addition, one-child offspring also suffer from so called “sibling deprivation”. These children missed the enjoyment and frustration from sibling rivalry and interactions. Under this circumstance, according to Professor Cameron, these children became less willing to take risk and compete. Such deficiencies also reflect the apathy and aimlessness attitude in adulthood. As Professor Cameron puts it, ““These behavioral impacts could have economic consequences in addition to the more obvious social implications”.


In my opinion, I believe the excitement and fascination of life come from our innate competitive and ambitious personalities. These are the major qualities that can drive us to want to be better and exceptional.  They make us seek and desire innovation and perfection and together we create a more advanced and healthier world. Therefore, I find it ridiculous that children in China are living in such an unchallenging atmosphere that weakens their potential to obtain these significant characteristics. I understand that the practice of the one-child policy needs to be continued before we discover a better solution to controlling China’s population growth. However, it can make a huge difference if parents in China can give their children the opportunity to experience mistakes, discomfort and criticisms instead of over protecting and indulging them. A person’s childhood experience is the ultimate foundation for his future individuality. For the children’s development, I hope parents in China can offer their children a chance of self-discovery; for example, give them the freedom to determine on their own the correct solution or methods in relation to everyday life’s problems. This, I believe, will increase their adaptability and independency, which are major components that one needs in order to be a success in this dynamic society.

Nonetheless, I am not saying the development of “Little Emperors” attitude is the causation for China’s graduate unemployment crisis. The majority of the available works that companies in China offer are factory works, which are risky and low wages. It is logical that graduates in China would prefer positions that are less hazardous and with a higher salary. However, there is a visible correlation that connects the one-child policy to the absence of motivation and ambition in today’s Chinese generation. Regardless of the types of jobs that are available in China, if the graduates have the determination to be outstanding, they can, for example, create jobs or do private investment. Therefore, I believe the issue is not the lack of good jobs but is the absence of the willpower to drive oneself to success. This is an example that all of us should take a lesson from; it demonstrates how environmental, social, and economic factors are interconnected and the costs can be profound if we neglect any one of these factors.

“The three pillars of development (economic, social and environmental) must be strengthened together. But it is evident that two of the pillars – economic and social – are subsidiary to, and underpinned by, the third: a vibrant global ecology. Neither dollars nor our species will out-survive our planet. The earth can survive happily without people or profit” – Dave Hampton (letter to the Financial Times, November 2004

DSC_0001Chi Kit Cheong
Support Officer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Broadgate Financial Group.