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New generation to shun owning homes?
By Qu Zhi


AFTER making money from his animation studio, Peter Zhu invested 70 percent of the earnings — 160,000 yuan (US$26,230) — in the equity market and to improve his studio. He spent the rest on computer games, eating and drinking.

“I won’t rush into buying a house that will result in a heavy mortgage like some of my peers do, even though I can afford it. I want to enjoy life,” the 24-year-old Shanghai native tells Shanghai Daily.

Zhu is among many people born in the 1990s for whom buying homes is a low priority. In December, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences published a survey in which 55 percent of the respondents said they would not purchase an apartment with a big mortgage, often considered about 1 million yuan or higher.

The research was based on 4,110 respondents born in the 1990s — 1,380 university graduates and 2,730 university students.

Tian Feng, who led the survey, said the main factor keeping this generation away from real estate is surging home prices in China’s first-tier cities. The gap between income and housing price is simply too big for a young graduate to purchase an apartment on his own.

More than half the respondents in Tian’s research said that if they were given money they would use it to start a business or travel, rather than to buy an apartment.

“On one hand, these young people agree with the conventional idea that a home is the key element in getting married and establishing a home. However, on the other hand, they are attaching more importance to the quality of life, which they will not sacrifice for an apartment,” Tian said.

Zhu currently works for a leading accounting firm in Shanghai, which gives him an annual income of 120,000 yuan after tax. He started up his animation studio four years ago while in university and has earned 160,000 yuan in total. All told, he has earned much more than the average income for people of his age.

“The real estate market for me is a typical example of a bubble economy,” he says, sitting in his small rented room in downtown Shanghai. “The housing price is ridiculously high. I’d rather spend my hard-earned money on something more meaningful to realize my dream.”

Occasionally if he wants to cook for himself, he has to share the kitchen with his four neighbors.

“But if my future wife wants a home, I guess I will buy one,” he says. “It will make my life a lot harder. Even though I know a man should strive for a better life on his own, I sometimes envy those who can inherit their family home.”

Another main reason behind not buying houses is the fact that many post-1990s-generation Chinese are the only child in their family. So they can inherit their family home, or their parents will likely purchase one for them.

It has never occurred to Tony Ye, 22, to buy an apartment. Now all he wants is to locate a job and stay in Shanghai after graduation. “Just the pressure in mortgage I saw on my brother, that is horrifying,” says the Hangzhou native.

“The generation born after 1990 is too young to consider buying a home. They are like migrating birds still figuring various paths for life,” says Gu Xiaoming, a sociologist from Shanghai’s Fudan University.

Still, Gu finds it hard to conclude based on the research that the post-1990s generation will likely be the “not purchasing homes” generation.

“For Chinese people, purchasing a house has the same importance as marriage,” he says. “Home renders people a sense of belonging, which one can rely on for a lifetime.”

Today’s young men also want to own a place to live, but it is very tough to accomplish, according to Zhu.

“I need my own apartment when getting married. My parents have already bought one for me but I still need my future husband to buy one for us,” says 23-year-old Emily Li.

For Li, an apartment shows a man’s responsibility, care and his level of affection when he makes his vow to her “till death do us apart.”

“We can undertake the mortgage together but we need our own home. And I think I can speak for all my female friends for this,” the Fudan University graduate says.

Henry Woo, a post-graduate student at the Medical College of Boston University, says that though he can’t afford to buy an apartment now, he will buy one when he returns to China, sooner or later.

“I hate moving,” says the Hong Kong native. “Renting an apartment sounds very insecure to me. And if I need to rent a place for at least 30 years, why don’t I just buy it instead?”

Different voices

Laura Shen, 64, retired

“I don’t think young people born in the 1990s have the ability to purchase a home themselves now. It all depends on their parents who will very likely do it for them. Chinese parents will always try their best to purchase an apartment for their offspring to get married, especially when they have a son. I had been saving for this purpose since my son was 3 years old. And he is now doing the same thing for my grandchild who just entered primary school.”

David Huang, 24, engineer at a German automobile company

“I currently have no plan of buying a home here in Shanghai, not because I don’t want to. Since I don’t have Shanghai hukou (household registration), I am not allowed to purchase an apartment here. In the past years, I didn’t think I would have the money and now my financial condition is getting better, but I still can’t buy a place to live.”

Lillian Yu, 20, student at a first-tier university in Shanghai

“I actually don’t care about whether I have my own apartment. I like to live in different areas of the city and if I rent I can move to wherever is close to my working place. And I really want to enjoy life using the money I earn. Getting married and settling down sounds like distant to me.”

Sam Xu, 30, department manager of a state-owned bank

“When I heard some younger friends insisting on not being ‘mortgage slave,’ living freely and enjoying life, I can’t help twisting my mouth slightly in a sneer. How naive they are. I mean don’t be silly. Unless you already have an apartment here, I don’t think a girl will get married to a man without a house. First of all, your future mother-in-law will loathe everything about you.”

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