Many Americans got an allowance when they were children, a few dollars of pocket cash a week, usually in exchange for doing household chores. In China, youth unemployment is so bad now that some adult children being paid allowances as large as the national average salary, in exchange for basically being a kid.
On Chinese social media, the hashtags #FullTimeDaughter and #FullTimeSon have millions of views each. Full-time children get paid to be their parents’ kids, including spending time with them, joining them on outings, and doing household chores. They serve as hybrids of kids and multitasking assistants who shop, cook, and clean for their parents. Most of these full-time children also have the benefit of free room and board in their parents’ homes.
Unemployment in the world’s second largest economy is a huge challenge, as three years of China’s draconian “zero COVID” policy greatly slowed the economy. In June, the unemployment rate for Chinese people aged 16 to 24 was a staggering 21.3%—an all-time high, up from 20.8% in May. With one in five Chinese Gen Zers out of work, the full-time child arrangement of earning a living wage for doing simple chores and hanging out with mom and dad can be appealing. Over 4,000 full-time children populate a community forum on the Chinese social site Douban.
“I like cooking, and I cook lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday for my family,” one full-time daughter posted on Douban, NBC reported. “My parents give me money without interfering with my life. I am extremely happy every day.”
The full-time children trend coincides with “lying flat,” an older trend born from anti-work sentiment and burnout. Lying flat is similar to “quiet quitting” in the U.S.; it’s a counterculture movement in which young Chinese workers mentally resign from the rat race, choose to not have career ambitions, and prioritize a relaxed, minimalist lifestyle. Lying flat is the most famous of China’s anti-work trends, but similar trends including “involution” and “let it rot” capture the same sense of pessimistic resignation, a total lack of desire to progress as a professional.
The generational pendulum is swinging aggressively toward burnout and anti-ambition in China, as Chinese millennials are known for being laser-focused on their work. In China, the millennial generation is called “ken lao zu,” or roughly “the generation that eats the old.” As their name implies, the children of the 80s in China were highly competitive in school and cutthroat in their careers.
Some believe that Chinese Gen Z’s burnout can be partially attributed to the highly competitive education culture that was reinforced by the previous generation. The pressure cooker of academic and career competition may have been untenable across several generations, inspiring a sweeping trend of defeatism in the country’s youngest workers.
Still, being a full time child is a privilege only afforded to China’s middle class and above. Most of the Chinese population cannot afford to pay their children a full-time wage, and many instead rely on their adult children to supplement the family income. So while it’s a cushy gig, being a full-time child isn’t a real option for most.
It’s debatable whether being a full-time child is a “real” job—the name is doing it no favors, but the actual tasks are similar to those of a caretaker, personal shopper, or housekeeper. But regardless, full-time children are not part of the workforce in an official sense, as they are considered unemployed by China. While many full-time children find personal fulfillment in their work, for the nation it’s a troubling trend. China has one of the world’s fastest aging populations and is in a fertility slump, so it urgently needs to create real jobs for young people to replenish its workforce.
If the unemployment crisis escalates for too long, as the full-time children name implies, China will risk thousands of youth never becoming full-time adult workers.