Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jun 27, 2014

'Director of parenting': The modern Chinese mother's new role

SHANGHAI - This past year has provided several reasons for marketers to adjust their previous perceptions of Chinese mothers as women of the post-'90s and -'80s generations reach child-bearing age. Along with China's latest relaxation of its one-child policy, this will only help drive the maternity-products and babycare industries.

'Director of parenting': The modern Chinese mother's new role

Noting the trends, Dentsu Network's consumer insight centre in China has set up a 'Mama Lab' in order to gain better understanding of today’s new modern moms. With 16 million newborns each year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the mainland ranks as the world's second largest consumer market for babies' and children's goods, after the United States. Dentsu's 'Mama Lab' has conducted a survey of more than 1,000 mothers in first- and second-tier cities for starters.

Marketers in China have often attempted to identify the differences between generations born in the past four decades. Young mothers born in the 1980s and 1990s grew up in 'developed China' with much more independent and self-centred personalities and wider worldviews. Such values are reflected even in their post-birth lives, said Helen Gu, strategic planner at Dentsu Network Greater China.

Nothing could be more appropriate than the term 'director of parenting' to describe today’s post-'80s and post-'90s mothers. "The word director also resonates with marketing and communication professionals who are used to titles like 'business director' or 'creative director', and this interpretation of modern Chinese mothers will be most relevant," Gu told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Passionate about themselves

Mothers born in the 1980s and 1990s are modern, egoistic, and independent, according to the report. Rather than being limited to one role, they have revealed a determination to maintain a balance between their lifestyles, careers and children even after giving birth.

Results from a similar survey Dentsu conducted in the US showed that American mothers are surprisingly much less focused on sustaining their previous lifestyles and more willing to sacrifice their own careers after giving birth. (See below figure.)

Although parenting occupies time and energy, Chinese mothers are still participating in lifestyle pursuits they enjoyed before childbirth. Close to 40 per cent showed interest in cultivating themselves through study, and 35 per cent still intentionally use fashion and cosmetics to express their femininity. Dining out with friends at least once a week had much less priority after childbirth, but 16 per cent persist in such social activities and prefer to take their child out with them.

Please call me the 'director of parenting'

Although Chinese mothers today are seen as self-centred women who put themselves first even after childbirth, they do show responsibility in their parenting. They operate primarily as 'directors of parenting' who instruct on parenting methodology, hold power in parenting decisions, and delegate most actual parenting tasks to others for execution. According to Dentsu's research, 54 per cent surveyed have their parents helping out on a variety of tasks like housework, changing diapers and feeding milk; only 17 per cent carry out tasks by themselves. (See below figure.)

Some of these ‘directors of parenting’ even draft a daily timed plan for the execution of tasks, and also perform daily checks to ensure that all tasks are properly completed by the child’s grandparents.

Power moms

Another interesting point in Dentsu's research is how 76 per cent think their status and power in the family have been enhanced after delivery, regardless of the baby being a girl or a boy. Close to 90 per cent dominate purchasing decisions for baby-related products such as diapers and milk powder. Even the selection of other seemingly unrelated products is heavily influenced by Chinese mothers, using their new baby as an excuse to purchase anything from small home appliances worth a few hundred RMB to cars costing hundreds of thousands.

Given China's pollution levels, it is no surprise that air purifiers became a must-buy item for almost every mother surveyed, since they are seen as an easy way to provide a better living environment. Additionally, 73 per cent who want to purchase a new washing machine would choose one with a drying function. The price of such a washing machine is around 5,000 to 10,000 RMB, which is two to three times the price of a standard washing machine in China. These eye-catching figures showed that the new generation of Chinese mothers is clearly willing to spend money on high-end products to elevate their babies’ quality of life. (See below figure.)

Today’s new generation of Chinese mothers is much more proactive than the previous generation in terms of procuring parenting information, according to Dentsu. They are quick and enthusiastic about searching, sharing, and exchanging information on diverse channels including the internet as well as communities of friends and relatives who are already mothers.

What makes these post-80s and -90s mothers distinctive is how they do not blindly follow advice they have heard, even from their own mothers. Instead, they will perform an independent evaluation of the product before taking action to buy. The most popular method is personal trial, followed by getting feedback from more experienced mothers.

Dentsu recommends practical trial kits to allay the concerns of Chinese mothers who care much more about quality and safety than other countries due to the country’s prevalent health concerns. After product purchase, close to 80 per cent will ‘recheck’ a product by reading online comments to make sure their decision was correct. This percentage indicating a lack of trust in China is much higher than among American mothers, whose immediate action is to check for other available places to buy the same product.


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