Census boss talks up hopes of boosting HK's population

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2007, 12:00am

Help for families, talent schemes seen lowering age profile

If Hong Kong is to realise Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's vision of a population of 10 million, tax concessions for parents, and family-friendly employment practices could play a crucial role, the census chief said.

And while Hong Kong is an ageing society because of the fall in births, Commissioner for Census and Statistics Fung Hing-wang was not altogether pessimistic about the prospect of that changing.

'The forecast indicates possible problems in the future,' said Mr Fung. 'If we address them now, it is not impossible we can reverse the trend.'

He cited as an example the adoption of family-friendly work practices to ease the pressures on working mothers. 'One of the reasons fewer women want to have babies is that they want to make more money and they fear they would have to give up their careers if they have to take care of their children at home.'

Encouraging talented young people to migrate to the city, where they might marry and have children, would reduce the population's average age, he said.

'We should not overlook the multiplier effect they could have. Their babies would grow up here and would have their own families here.'

Hong Kong's fertility rate is among the lowest in the world. Census department figures show that in 1971 there were 3.46 children for every woman of child-bearing age; the ratio had fallen to 0.98 by last year. It is forecast to fall to 0.9 in the next 30 years.

In his budget speech in February, the then financial secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen announced the tax allowance for each child would be raised by 25 per cent, to HK$50,000 a year, and that parents would enjoy an additional tax-free allowance of HK$50,000 against their incomes in the year of a child's birth.

In an interview with the Financial Times in June, Mr Tsang said he envisioned Hong Kong having 10 million people to match other cities like New York and London, whose size he said was optimal for a global financial centre. The figure is 40 per cent higher than the current population.

'We must not allow the population to age and shrink,' he said. 'We must grow in order to be competitive.'

He said the city had 'the fundamentals' to offer a 'reasonably good living' for 10 million people.

By last year, 12 per cent of the population was 65 or older. That proportion is forecast to reach 26 per cent by 2036.

Over the same period, the proportion of working-age residents is expected to drop from 74 per cent to 62 per cent, and the median age to rise from 39.6 last year to 46.1 in 2036.

Meanwhile, the Census and Statistics Department is holding a series of exhibitions this month to mark its 40th anniversary.

Three books about the department's history, and 40 years of social statistics, will be published.

Mr Fung said those figures showed Hong Kong had improved a lot.

He said the median monthly family income in 1976 at current prices was HK$1,425. Last year it was HK$17,250. On the other hand, the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, had worsened from 0.429 in 1976 to 0.533 last year.

A low Gini coefficient indicates more equal wealth distribution. A coefficient of 0 corresponds to perfect equality, and 1 to perfect inequality.

Still, Mr Fung said, income inequality was not too bad. Taking into account social welfare payments, last year's Gini coefficient would be 0.475, he said.