The Memes 2019

India 1.5
The New Aspirants

“Right now I work in the admin team at Tata but bodybuilding is my passion. I use whatever money I earn to support all my nutritional requirements like protein shakes, eggs, supplements, etc. I am also saving up now so I can open my own gym and train people to become bodybuilders. My brother will help me take a loan for this business.”

- Divesh Singh, Male, 24 years, Bhandup

The simplest (and often most effective) way to understand quality of life in India is across three segments. India 1 - often referred to as the spending class - with aspirations and consumption patterns similar to their counterparts in the US or UK - is the smallest of the three. The vast majority consists of India 2 or the serving class composed of domestic helpers, drivers, liftmen, office peons, farmers and many more who make life easier for India 1. Their quality of life is comparable to that of counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia. And then there is India 3 who live subsistence lives, from hand-to-mouth. These tend to be daily wage earners and those below the poverty line - leading difficult lives, not unlike what you would find in Sub-Saharan Africa. This classification has been used frequently by marketers, social commentators and brand owners in recent times.

However, a new class is emerging, fuelled by affordable technology in the form of smartphones and cheap data plans. These children of today’s India 2 are part of the national and even global discourse. They can see what their more affluent peers are up to on digital media – where they go, what they do, how they eat – and their aspirations are no less. We call this generation ‘India 1.5’ – to describe the way they bridge their India-2 roots with their India-1 aspirations. How they navigate this chasm will be a hugely consequential element in India’s development story.

These youngsters tend to be much better educated than their parents, and more comfortable speaking English. They are hungry for white collar jobs and determined to avoid the more menial work that has defined their parents. “Air conditioned office” is the proxy for white collar work that comes up most often in conversations about their ambitions. These youngsters take pro-active steps in the hope of moving up the ladder and living the life they have always imagined. Access to affordable fashion, grooming, and smartphone apps have given them a way to hack into more aspirational lifestyles that might have once seemed out of reach – often making it impossible to tell India-1 and India-2 youth apart based on their appearance.

As seen in South East Asia and China over the last 30 years, rapid economic growth goes a long way in pulling the next generation out from the jaws of poverty and into a more aspirational middle class lifestyle. However the harsh reality of India’s employment crisis is the spanner in the works that has the potential to wreck their dreams. While many youngsters are willing to move to new cities in search of jobs, they often find themselves out of depth due to a mismatch of skills. Communication problems, English language proficiency, and improper mannerisms are common constraints, especially amongst those who make the move from the informal to the formal sector.

Despite these difficulties, many youngsters are finding ways to live out their ever expanding aspirations. Migration and up-skilling are key pathways. Many are ready to leave their families and native places, in search of better economic opportunities. Raju who moved to Mumbai two years ago shares a room with five other boys all of whom work in the outer realms of India’s digital economy – as delivery boys, warehouse workers, physical trainers, and drivers at ride share companies. They each contribute a part of their salary towards running the house, while the rest is sent back home. Being smartphone literate and having a driving license often counts for more than any formal training or education. It is estimated there are now more than a million people employed in just three professions – delivery men for hyperlocal companies like Swiggy, Zomato or Dunzo, delivery men for ecommerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart and drivers for ride sharing services like Ola and Uber. They earn between Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 45,000 a month – depending on incentives and how long they can work (often their days start at 7 a.m. and end after midnight, around 2 a.m).

This is the new India 1.5 - they may not earn as much as India 1, but they certainly have the exposure, aspiration and drive to achieve a lifestyle closer to that of India 1. Collectively, they now form a vast consumer group that is ripe for tapping – not just for their roles in supporting the consumption of India 1, but for creating consumption opportunities in their own right, for themselves and their families. Welcome the new India 1.5 into your consumer strategy.