Teenage values in Asia

Many Asian teenagers today are more affluent than their parents’ generation, and they are open to international values due to the speed of the internet revolution.

However, parents continue to have a strong influence over their children’s lives which influences teenagers’ choices.

Key trends

  • Economic growth, Asia Pacific has the highest economic growth rates in the world, and this has led to real improvements in the standard of living;
  • A stressful education system continues to encroach on teenage lifestyles;
  • The Confucian tradition of respect for your elders persists;
  • The importance of “fitting-in” is especially evident with Asian teenagers;
  • High speed internet and online facilities dominate teenagers’ past-times.

Commercial opportunities

  • Computer related products like video games, and ergonomic chairs and desks;
  • Educational products which enhances memories for studying;
  • Interactive marketing opportunities for technology-savvy teenagers;
  • Kawaii brands.


In the 1950s Asia Pacific was one of the most impoverished regions in the world. Just half a century later, Asia contains economic giants such as Japan and also some of the fastest growing economies, such as China and India and the tiger economies of South East Asia. This has led to real gains in income and the emergence of a middle class and with it the surfacing of teenage lifestyles previously limited to the West.

Per capita disposable incomes in Asia Pacific
Real growth in per capita disposable income:2001-2006Per capita disposable income US$: 2006
South Korea22.211,511
Hong Kong, China4.619,647
Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics

Overall, many Asian teenagers nowadays are more affluent than their parents used to be, and they are open to international values due to the speed of the internet revolution.

Respecting your elders

In East Asia, the teachings of Confucius are widespread, and respecting the elders is an important element of Asian education. Parents have a strong influence over their children’s lives. This influences teenagers’ choices for the future.

Teenagers’ aspirations are mostly job focused. Security is important, and ccompetition for top universities continues apace. Not only does it look good on their resumes, but going to the best university creates good ‘guanxi’ (relationships and connections). Because of guanxi, many influential people help out those from their universities to get good jobs. Therefore parents and students spend time and resources to make sure they have a good chance of getting into exclusive circles, and private tuition is a lucrative business.

  • In South Korea 80% of teenagers attend private evening schools, known as hagwon, to improve their chances of reaching university. Lessons can take place between 6pm and 11pm each day after school. Status is important in South Korea and education is seen as the main way of achieving it but the emphasis on study can leave little time for fun, creativity and exercise;
  • In Japan, although respect for elders is less important than it was, knowing your place in society is still an unavoidable part of life for teenagers. The system of senpai (a person in a club, or your workplace, or school or college who is your senior) and kohai (the “junior partner” who is expected to obey and show respect to their senpai) still reigns supreme. The relationship is one of a mentor-mentee and the earliest are formed in school. The respect and conformity learnt here is carried with them through life.


Computer technology has developed quickly in East Asia. Broadband is readily available and cyber-space is very prominent in teenagers’ lives.

  • The number of personal computers in Asia Pacific has more than doubled in the past six years, and there were 102.1 million personal computers in use in China, 20.8 million in India, 56.0 million in Japan and 28.3 million in South Korea in 2006.
  • The number of internet subscribers in India is expected to have jumped from 3.5 million in 2006 to 6.8 million in 2007, and in Taiwan more than half of the population were internet subscribers in 2006. South Korea already boasts one of the highest rates of broadband internet penetration in the world, with 29.1 per 100 inhabitants subscribing to high-speed internet in 2006.

These computer-literate teenagers use cyberspace as an important aspect of socialising and entertainment, proven by the popularity of social networking website MySpace in India. South Korean teenagers frequently use PC-bang (an internet cafe chain in South Korea) solely to play computer games against each other.

  • Social networking sites in Japan have about 10 million users. The most popular, Mixi, has seen its number of members increase five-fold in the past year. Mobile social networking sites are particularly popular as PC ownership tends to be lower in Japan than other developed countries. Mobikade, which is widespread among Japan’s urban youth, enables friends to provide each other with regular updates of where-I-am and what-I’m-doing pseudo-news via a website accessible from their mobiles. Every action earns participants points, which can be used to send text messages to friends, or they can be saved and entered in a monthly prize draw. Users can also download games, such as Sudoku.

Texting is also another frequent method of communication, where the phone-line providers offer numerous discount deals for students. Currently there are 1.1 billion mobile phone users in Asia Pacific, and in China alone 102.9 billion mobile SMS messages were sent in 2006.

  • According to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, there are 21 million cell phone users in Malaysia, sending out 84 million text messages a day. Assuming each SMS costs an average of 10 sen; Malaysians are spending some RM8.4 million a day on text messages. Most SMS senders tend to be teenagers or young working adults with a surge in the number of text messages during festive seasons. Other spikes are during SMS voting for television shows. In 2006, it was reported that during the finals of Malaysian Idol 2 fans sent 1.67 million messages.

To fit in or to stand out

The ‘group’ mentality is very strong in Asia, rather than stressing individuality. This can be seen in the identical school uniforms, which discourages anything eccentric. The length of girls’ hair is often regulated by the school in many Asian countries. To ‘fit-in’ is very important in Asian culture, because the importance of social acceptance. But teenagers also want to stand out. One way of this is to stand out with materials they own, through the latest mobile phone handsets or MP3 players for example.

The buying power of Asian teenagers in cities is huge. Brands and labels are very important for clothes and trainers. Asians like to fit in so they also like to be ‘in’ with fashion.

  • Teenage girls in Japan are extremely fashion-savvy with an enduring trend for “kawaii” (cute). Hello Kitty being a prime example of a kawaii brand which has mass appeal. Fashion is fast, with tastes changing at lightening speeds. The “Tokyo Girls Collection” is a fashion show which features the street clothes that Tokyo girls wear and allows attendees to buy the clothes they see on the catwalk via their mobile phones in real time. The trend for kawaii extends beyond fashion to food (witness Hello Kitty toasters which even burn the image onto the toast), OTC medicines, toys and even government departments with kawaii logos.

The brand value needs to be accepted. This is why marketing is very important, and Japanese companies use high profile A-class Hollywood actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Meg Ryan, Demi Moore and Sean Connery for their marketing campaigns and television adverts.

Idolisation of the West

As many of the Asian teenagers’ aspirations are towards becoming successful and making it ‘big’, the West is often the place they look towards as a dream goal. Hollywood stars and Ivy League universities are sought after. This explains the popularity of the Hollywood Theme Park in Japan, as many Japanese teenagers queue to get in despite the high entrance fee charged. American fashion styles are often copied and these teenagers buy American chocolates and eat at Pizza Hut and McDonalds, unlike their parents who find Western food too sweet or too greasy for their tastes.

Idolisation of the West has decreased in some areas as the economic power of Asia is rising. Japanese fashion has always been popular but Korean films and television have becoming increasingly watched across Asia and South Korean pop stars become ever more popular.

  • The Korean Wave or Hallyu has spread across Asia and led to a craze for all things Korean – food, fashion and cosmetics. Asian consumers find the attitudes and values of Korean brands close to their own and this has contributed to their popularity. The flow-on effect is increased sales for the country’s products, such as Samsung mobile phones, LG electrical appliances and Hyundai cars;
  • In China, Korean TV shows are extremely popular with Chinese teenagers aspiring to be like their Korean TV heroes. They find them more accessible than their American counterparts and aspiring to be like them a more realistic option.


Due to the increased use of cyberspace, Asian teenagers have a globalised outlook on life. A nationalistic tendency is likely to recede from the inflow of information and knowledge they receive on the internet and social norms are likely to be increasingly challenged. For example in Japan, it was normal for one person to spend their lifetime in one company but now they are starting to place their career development before the company’s profit.

Instead of being focused almost entirely on getting a good job and making money, attitudes are also changing towards enjoying life as well, such as taking holidays. Long-haul travel will develop over the next five years as Asians become more independent and confident in travelling further a field.

As economic growth continues apace the Hallyu is likely to be joined by increasing preferences for home grown brands and stars.