Adolescent girls in China: Managing conflicts in gender role expectations

Kara K W Chan, Yu Leung Ng, Zhijuan Chen, Jingjie Zhang

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


With the influx of western media and consumption styles, adolescent girls and boys in China are exposed to a variety of female images, in both contemporary as well as traditional gender roles and identities. China in 2012 had about 83 million adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 in 2012 (Quandl, 2013). Research on adolescent girls has mainly focused on their purchasing of fashion clothing (e.g. de Klerk and Tselepis, 2007; Grant and Stephen, 2005) as well as storybooks and dolls (Acosta-Alzuru and Kreshel, 2002; Borghini et al., 2009; Diamond et al., 2009). Market research that embraces Chinese adolescent girls as a unique market segment has been limited.

This book chapter will first review two updated content analysis studies on gender portrayal in advertising in Hong Kong as well as in China conducted by Chan and her students (Chan and Cheng, 2012; Wei, 2015). It follows with the empirical evidence of how adolescent boys and girls respond to different types of female images in advertising, including classical females, strong women, as well as urban sophisticated females. A focus group study, Hirschman and Thompson’s (1997) interpretive strategies were adopted to investigate how adolescents respond to media images. Three interpretive strategies were classified to explain consumer-media relationships. The three strategies were inspiring and aspiring (i.e. media users aspire to media images which are perceived as ideal self-images or ideal self- concepts), deconstructing and rejecting (i.e. media users separate the undesired media images and self-images or self-concepts), and identifying and individualizing (i.e. media users connect self-images or self-concepts to ideal media images). It was found that Chinese adolescent girls aspired to female images portrayed as elegant and urban sophisticates, while rejecting female images portrayed as aggressive (Ng and Chan, 2014).

Chan and her colleagues have conducted qualitative analyses investigating adolescent girls’ gender roles and identities. Interviewees expressed that gender roles and identities are constructed through the key themes of physical appearance, personality, work, and family (Chan, Ng and Williams, 2012; Chan and Ng, 2013a). A quantitative survey was conducted to examine how girls in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai endorsed conflicting views toward ideal female images and identities. It attempts to provide updated evidence for marketers to examine whether the Chinese adolescent girls sector is a mass media or a collection of distinctive market segments.

Perceptions of ideal female gender roles from 1,065 Chinese adolescent girls aged 12 to 20 living in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing were collected and analyzed. Four factors of girls’ gender roles and identities ― empowerment, housekeeping and motherhood, fashionable appearance, and citizenship ― were identified using a series of factor analyses. Four clusters of adolescent girls ― achievers, moderatists, free sophisticates, and charming housewives ― were profiled using cluster analysis. The percentages of girls classified into different clusters were compared. The findings support the idea that the Chinese adolescent-girl market is a collection of market segments with diversified consumer profiles in terms of ideal female gender roles and identities. Marketers should locate a specific market segment that is most appropriate for promoting their brands, and communicate to them using the female visual images the segment finds desirable.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationApproaches to conflict: Theoretical, interpersonal, and discursive dynamics
EditorsBarbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Paul A. Wilson, Stephen M. Croucher
Place of PublicationLanham, Maryland
PublisherLexington Books
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781498535465
ISBN (Print)9781498535458
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017

User-Defined Keywords

  • Globalization and localization
  • Consumer perception
  • Market segmentation
  • individualism-collectivism


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