Why Are So Many Young Chinese Depressed?
Growing disillusionment and depression among younger Chinese is not merely a symptom of the recent economic slowdown. In fact, the problem has been decades in the making, and owes much to China’s rigid education system, past fertility policies, and tight rural-urban migration restrictions.
SHANGHAI – China’s high youth unemployment rate and increasingly disillusioned young people – many of whom are “giving up” on work – have attracted much attention from global media outlets and Chinese policymakers. The standard narrative is to associate the problem with the country’s recent growth slowdown. In fact, the issue goes much deeper.
The rise of youth depression has been decades in the making, and owes much to China’s rigid education system, past fertility policies, and tight migration restrictions. Chinese youth are burned out from spending their childhood and adolescence engaged in ceaseless, intense study. Attending a good university is seen as necessary for securing a good job; and for rural children, a university degree is the only path to legal residence in cities under the hukou registration system. In a city, average household annual disposable income is $6,446, which enables a middle-class lifestyle. By contrast, in rural areas, an income averaging only $2,533 means living in relative poverty.
As if the pressure to get into a university wasn’t bad enough, the rigid structure of the school system makes matters worse. After nine years of compulsory schooling, children must pass an exam to enter an academic high school, and only 50% of them are allowed to pass. Teenagers who don’t make the cut attend vocational high school and are destined for low-paying jobs.