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Some Chinese youth spurn corporate jobs for 'me time' as economy slows

Published 02/14/2024, 08:09 PM
Updated 02/15/2024, 03:53 AM
© Reuters. A man walks in the Central Business District on a rainy day, in Beijing, China, July 12, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

By Nicoco Chan

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Faced with diminishing job prospects as the economy slows, Chu Yi is choosing to "lie flat", a Chinese term used to describe people who work just enough to afford to spend their time on what they enjoy.

The Shanghai-based 23-year-old used to work at a fashion company, but said she quit her job two years ago because she had to frequently work overtime and she hated her boss.

Chu now works from home just one day a week for a travel company, which gives her ample time to practice tattooing as part of a six-month apprenticeship towards becoming a full-time tattoo artist.

And she is not alone in "lying flat": although there is no data on how many young Chinese are opting out of corporate jobs that they traditionally would have taken, the youth jobless rate rose to a record high of 21.3% in June 2023 amid an economy still struggling to return to pre-pandemic growth levels, and several Chinese college graduates have said that they are trading down to find a source of income.

"For me, there is not much meaning to work," Chu said. "Most of it seems to be finishing work for your manager and making your manager happy. So I decided I don't want to work."

There are around 280 million young Chinese who like Chu are born between 1995-2010, and surveys show that this Generation Z is the most pessimistic of all age groups in the country.

Pacifying this generation amid some of the slowest economic growth in nearly half a century presents a key policymaking challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and last month the human resources ministry said more efforts were needed to prop up employment in 2024, especially for the youth.

Zhou Yun, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, said that while it may seem that some youth were opting out of the corporate rat race, it was impossible to overlook their pessimism about the future.

As China's economy slows and the labour market remains tight, it is "profoundly challenging for young people to navigate rigid social inequalities, tightening political control and dim economic prospects," Zhou said.

All this combined is making young people like Chu prioritise their own well-being and interests over what she called the "unending pressure" of corporate work. Chu said that she was much happier now and believed her choice was "worthwhile".

© Reuters. Chu Yi, 23, who is doing a six-month apprenticeship to be a tattoo artist, uses her laptop during an interview with Reuters at her home on the outskirts of Shanghai, China February 5, 2024. REUTERS/Nicoco Chan

"My current salary, even though it's not a lot, is enough to cover my daily costs. Free time is worth much more than several thousand yuan," she said.

(This story has been refiled to change the dateline to Shanghai from Hong Kong)

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