Female education on rise in China

GETChina Insights
7 min readAug 2, 2019


“Her economy (她经济)” is one of the 171 newly-coined Chinese words announced by the country’s Ministry of Education in August 2007. With the improvement of female socioeconomic status, a unique economic phenomenon has formed based on women’s financial management and consumption. So this piece will unveil the female learning activities in Chinese society.

The self-development demand of Chinese female groups is stimulating a learning ecosystem with increasingly enriched contents such as beauty and makeup, fitness, vocational skills, lifestyle, childcare, clothes matching and cooking, which are reaching more and more Chinese women in the form of audio series, live-streaming lessons, knowledge-based consumption and offline training, etc.

The rise of Chinese women learning curve targeting at self-development is premised on the general improvement of the educational level of female groups, spurring female self-awareness. With a wider dimension than basic education in narrow terms, women’s learning motivation, time, expenditure and style are always changing according to different stages of life.

Overall: the degree and non-degree education is developing simultaneously

Significant changes have been brought about by the development of education in recent decades to Chinese women, owing to the popularization of basic education and the accelerated development of higher education.

According to the Report on Gender Equality and Women’s Development in China(《中国性别平等与妇女发展》), the proportion of female undergraduate and postgraduate students in ordinary colleges and universities in 2014 was respectively 52.1% and 51.6%, and the proportion of female in doctoral students has jumped to 36.9%. Apart from degree education, women are increasingly involved in non-degree higher education and adult higher education (institutions where people graduated from vocational college go to for admission to regular undergraduate universities). From the same report in the period from 1995 to 2005, the proportion of female who obtained a bachelor’s degree through self-taught exams rose from 38.4% in 1995 to 47.8% in 1999 while that of female receiving adult higher education has increased from 42.7% to 47.3% in 1994–1999.

As for the popular majors chosen by the female group in non-degree higher education and adult higher education , they are mostly concentrated in the fields of secretarial, nursing, public relations, accounting, business English, and tour guides.

Ushering in “the University age”: learning has dual drive of practicality and interest

When receiving higher education with the dual characters of academic research and social attribute, female college students’ learning purpose can be roughly divided into two categories which are the study tasks assigned by school and learning activities based on professional development and personal interests.

In terms of academic learning, the biggest change in recent years has been the way of acquiring knowledge that learning from online courses has gradually become a highly accepted path for college students. In April 2019, the “Action Statement of MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)”(《中国慕课行动宣言》) issued by the Ministry of Education stated that a total of 12,500 Chinese classes were launched with more than 200 million learners including students and people from the society.

Focusing on improving workplace skills and pursuing interests, the contents and learning paths of female college students’ choices have been increasingly abundant. Platforms such as Bilibili, a China-based video-sharing website originally themed around animation, comic, and game(ACG), are providing a series contents for female students in college with a variety of professional skills such as beauty and makeup, clothes matching, and hip-hop. Jan Jie, a student from Sichuan said that she spends an average of one hour each day studying online, including video lessons recorded by the school’s teachers and online public classes.

In fact, language learning and vocational education are the two main sub-sectors of college students’ online learning activities. According to the data from XuetangX, the world’s first Chinese MOOC platform cooperating with MOOC Research Center of the Ministry of Education dedicated to provide free online learning courses from domestic and overseas top universities, respectively 64.1% and 59.6% of the college students indicated that they are learning online to improve their language abilities and professional skills. Apart from academic learning, Jan Jie is also learning some skills preparing her for future career life such as makeup and video editing which she has few opportunities to systematically learn.

According to China Central Television’s(CCTV) report in April 2019, language learning related content such as English and Japanese accounted for a large portion in Bilibili, the content related to Gaokao (college entrance examination), entrance exams for postgraduate schools and various vocational skills is also popular. However, when it comes to more professional learning demand, more students still regard offline learning as the most reliable way.

Working Women: fragmented learning driven by career

In the current context of the knowledge economy, a higher level of education often sparks more job opportunities. In light of the data from World Bank in 2019, the average labor force participation rate of the female is 47.9% whereas it is as high as 61.25% in China, ranking 86 among the countries in the survey list. Social recognition gained from the workplace drives women to continue their study journey of self-improvement.

Since full-time employees have less spare time, plus women usually have to do more housework, learning online during fragmented time through knowledge-based products becomes the most common learning path for female employees. And the period of commuting has been regarded as the golden time to do so. Zhu Junxiu, the founder of Qianliao, a China-based knowledge service platform targeting at female group, summarized that the content of female workers’ knowledge-based consumption is mainly divided into two categories, one is more hardcore improvement such as the skills of using Office software and the other lies in soft power improvement such as the training of communication and learning.

29-year-old Chen Jianqing, employed as Internet operations in the current company for six years, has spent more than thousands of dollars to buy relevant courses from Sanjieke, which is known as the “online university” for Internet practitioners. But she said that it is not easy to stick to it. She even finished a 30-minute video course off and on in five hours and she admitted that sometimes classes are bought to alleviate her own anxiety of feeling obliged to learn.

Green Paper on the Health of Chinese Career Women in 2018 published by the International Communication Research Center of Tsinghua University shows that the intense competition and pressure in the workplace make it a common status of women suffering from the sub-health that insomnia, anxiety, depression and other issues are increasingly tormenting female workers.

The skincare, balanced diet and fitness are the three health-related topics that women in the workplace pay most attention to. And new media is the main information acquiring path that more than 40% of them said related information usually comes from health experts’ WeChat-based media. The 2017 Chinese Women’s Life Form Study(2017年中国女性生活形态研究报告), jointly published by iResearch and Meet you, shows that 46.4% of women exercise at least once a week through yoga and dance.

Lulu, running a yoga studio in Beijing, has many female customers doing full-time jobs. She observed that compared to students or stay-at-home mothers, working women usually have stricter management of their bodies and time, and their frequency of attending classes is more stable. But once they grasp some basic knowledge on health and fitness, working women are more inclined to practice at home.

Stay-at-home mothers: looking for communities based on interest, easily influenced by KOL

Tencent Penguin Intelligence has indicated in its China Internet Trend Report from 2019 to 2020 that after childbirth, women usually invest less money in clothing, entertainment, travel and cosmetics but they still would like to pay for knowledge-based products and only 14.6% of the respondents said that they have cut their spending on learning.

So where did mothers’ money go? Products providing parenting guidance around early childhood stage accounts for the biggest proportion. According to Babytree, the largest parenting website in China, visiting websites and Apps with maternal and infant related knowledge is the major motivation for new moms to surf the Internet. 71% of them spend more than half an hour a day browsing such information.

Moreover, stay-at-home moms always have stronger appeals for social contact, so they are not only learning through Apps and KOL but also building their own circles both online and offline to get more informed through the form of community learning. Some respondents believe that this interest-based socialization usually makes them more relaxed and enjoyable.

From vocational skill training to career development, from fitness to beauty and skincare, from parenting to emotional communication, it is undeniable that women’s pursuit of personal value gives rise to a comprehensive female learning ecosystem.

Ren Xingzhou, former director of the Market Economy Research Institute of the Development Research Center of the State Council(DRC), said at the the first China Alcohol Trade Women’s Development Conference in March 2019 that women’s consumption has become the main force and important growth point of the Chinese even the global consumer market. Next, there will be more and more women who learn for pursuing happiness, satisfaction, self-development and they will undoubtedly continue to be highlighted under the context of the national learning campaign.

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