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How women’s digital habits are evolving in China in 2021

“Women hold up half the sky,” former Chinese leader Mao Zedong famously said. More than fifty years on, women in China are doing so online, driving digital trends and fast becoming a cohort that marketers ignore at their peril.

By the simplest measures, digital participation is robust among women. In 2020, nearly half (49.4%) of the country’s internet users were female, according to our latest estimates. In fact, internet penetration among females was 69.2%, surpassing the penetration rate among males (67.1%).

Instant messaging was the most popular app category among females in China who used mobile internet every month, followed by retail, video-on-demand (VOD), short-form video, maps and navigation, and payment, per January 2021 data from research firm QuestMobile. Banking apps ranked 10th, used by more than 40% of such users.

Here’s a closer look at some key internet usage trends for this important demographic.

Social networking

WeChat remains the social network of choice among women in China. In the QuestMobile study, 85.9% of female mobile internet users visited the super app, and its sister messaging app QQ came in second, with a 56.2% penetration rate. While QQ has pivoted to a youthful audience, WeChat has become a social commerce destination, enabling users to not only shop through branded miniprograms, but also exchange messages and share content with brands as they would with friends and family.

The No. 3 social app was Weibo, with 44.1% penetration. Though Weibo’s user base has historically skewed male, females overindexed by wide margins in the Post-90s and -00s age groups (born between 1990 and 2009), the company reported in December. Female users also followed more macro-influencers on the platform than male users did.

Xiaohongshu is even more female-dominated: Nearly four in five users are female, according to Also called “Little Red Book” or simply “Red,” the platform is an amalgam of Pinterest and Instagram where users find—and buy—the latest in personal care, beauty, lifestyle, and travel. With social commerce gaining traction on Xiaohongshu, it’s no surprise that it had the fourth-highest penetration rate in the QuestMobile study, at 15.5%, followed by Momo, with 7.4%.

Penetration drops off significantly when we move beyond these top five apps, with all other social media apps posting rates below 3%.


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