BEIJING: Brands that target older consumers in China could enjoy substantial rewards over the long term, Nielsen, the research firm, has said.

According to the company, 1.4 billion people, or nearly 20% of the global population, live in Greater China, including 17 million residents in a city such as Shanghai alone.

More specifically, Nielsen said the one-child policy introduced in 1979, and the broader social changes accompanying economic liberalisation, have served to transform the country's demographic make-up.

The Chinese government has previously estimated that the formal restriction on the number of children per family had halted 250 million potential births over the two decades to 2000.

The fertility rate in China, currently said to stand at around 1.8 by the United Nations, is also closer to the figure of 1.6 recorded in most developed markets than the higher figures typically posted in emerging economies.

The gender balance in the world's most populous nation is also tilting towards male consumers, with Nielsen estimating that, by 2020, "there will be more than 24 million Chinese men who may not find a Chinese wife."

In the longer term, the pace of growth of the Chinese population will fall from 3% in the 1960s to less than 0.5% in 2017, with an overall decline then thought likely to begin in approximately 2032. 

Similarly, while 51% of people in the Asian nation were under the age of 20 years old in 1970, the current median age in the country stands 34.2 years old, a total that will continue to rise going forward.

By 2038 there will be as many consumers over the age of 65 years old as there are people under the age of 20 years old, the report claimed, with the former group overtaking the latter thereafter.

Nielsen also suggested that the opportunities available in China are without precedent, as population growth of 1% is the equivalent of adding a city the size of Beijing each year.

"As a marketplace, the potential of China is unmatched," Doug Anderson, senior vice president of research and development at Nielsen, said.

However, he further argued that brand owners will need to take a unique approach in order to adapt to the special demands they will face in the future.

"Marketers entering China will need to evaluate their portfolios very carefully. A mix of brands, targeted to different demographic groups, or those that work well in India or other less-developed nations may struggle in China," said Anderson.

"Gaining new users and the retention of current users will be far more important strategies than seeking to grow volume within existing users."

Data sourced from Nielsen; additional content by Warc staff