India today has the largest youth population the world has ever seen – and will probably ever see again. But despite so much research being done on Millennials and Generation Z in the developed world, their EM counterparts are still largely misunderstood. The aspirations of this misunderstood EM youth will determine the future of generations to come.
In March, we set off on a 10-day ethnographic research trip to India to try to better understand youth in this fast-growing nation. With 732m people under the age of 29, India has the largest youth population the world has ever seen. Ahead of the trip we reviewed existing research looking at Millennials and Gen Z in the developed world, and like most analysts expected to find many parallels with their EM counterparts. We assumed that because they have access to the same information on their phones it would result in the same hopes, dreams and aspirations.
We were wrong. We debunked 22 commonly held beliefs, or myths, about EM youth. Just because they share the same information it does not mean that they see the same opportunities or share the same anxieties.
In DMs, youths try to remain relevant. They struggle to find jobs, property is expensive, and they postpone the move out of their parents’ house. In short, they try to extend adolescence. In contrast, in EMs the narrative is about opportunity, and their concern is not to be left behind while others are getting rich.
On this trip we had long conversations with people in Mumbai, from slums to high-income areas. We then travelled back home with them, on an 11-hour train to Kolhapur, a third-tier city, to contrast their aspirations with those of Mumbai Youth.
...youths were purely focused on success. Things have been changing fast. We found that youths today want more wholesome lives.
What surprised us most was the change in Indian youth over the past six years. On my first ethnographic journey, youths were purely focused on success. Things have been changing fast. We found that youths today want more wholesome lives. They want to be successful, but they also want to remain connected with family and friends, and to improve themselves both physically and spiritually.
friends are becoming the “new tribe”, substituting roles previously held by their extended families
We took 150 pages of interview notes during this trip, running to over 40,000 words and with fascinating results. The word map below, for instance, shows the words from Kalhapur. The most commonly mentioned word was “Friends”. We are finding that friends are becoming the “new tribe”, substituting roles previously held by their extended families. This tribe of friends does more than friends in DMs would do. They lend you money, ask people to give you a job, and even argue with your parents to allow you more freedom.
We were not surprised to see WhatsApp being more important than Facebook. But we were surprised at the strong preference for being a business owner. There is anxiety over “insignificance” among today’s Indian youth. There is a fear of getting lost in big business and a loss of faith that multinationals drive big careers. They are risk takers and prefer the fluctuation of profits over a stable, low salary.
They feel that the “big city” lost its attraction. It takes more from you than it gives you.
“Mumbai Hectic” is the phrase that stuck with us after the trip. Youths in lower tier cities are losing their appetite to move to top-tier cities. They feel that the “big city” lost its attraction. It takes more from you than it gives you. They see life there as too fast, with two-hour commutes each way and expensive rents. They would rather move to a second-tier city which might mean less income but rent and transport costs are significantly lower. That means both more disposable income for consumption and more time in which to consume.
We saw a similar trend in China from our trips there. Youths are happier despite lower income because they perversely end up with higher disposable income and the more wholesome lives that they are looking for. This will drive further sustainable and inclusive growth in India.
We believe the Indian retailer who can strike a partnership with a Chinese online retailer will be the ultimate beneficiary.
Although Indian retailers might appear to be obvious winners, as in China, they will end up being losers to online. Without strong Indian online retailers, investors are likely to overlook this risk. We believe the Indian retailer who can strike a partnership with a Chinese online retailer will be the ultimate beneficiary. As always, the secondary impacts of upcoming trends are often overlooked and frequently provide the best long-term opportunities.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of Trinetra Investment Management LLP and are subject to revision over time. Trinetra is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom.