HK's rich hesitate to have babies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am


A majority of Hong Kong's highest earners, childless or otherwise, do not plan to have any children in future, a survey commissioned by the South China Morning Post shows.

Financial considerations were the most widely cited factor among those with children, and the emotional burden of raising a child was the main reason preventing those without children from wanting to do so.

'You need time and money to raise a child. But even more importantly, it's also a big emotional commitment,' said Joyce Ho Mei-yee, 36, who has a five-year-old daughter.

'I already feel guilty sometimes when I have to work and leave my daughter with the maid.'

The poll results provide an insight into why the city's fertility rate is the third-lowest in the world - only Macau and Singapore rank lower.

The low birth rate has raised fears of a looming labour shortage. A government manpower study concluded in February that the city would run short of workers by 2018.

All the 1,004 people surveyed had a household income of at least HK$40,000 - putting them among the richest 22 per cent of the population.

Half had no children, 26 per cent had one child and 18 per cent had two. Just 3 per cent had heeded Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's call in 2003 for couples to have three or more children.

Only 40 per cent planned to have a child in future.

People were asked to choose the three most important reasons for their decision and to rank them in order of importance.

Of those who had children but did not plan to have any more, nearly 60 per cent cited financial considerations as a factor; 29 per cent said it was the most important.

Some 55 per cent of this group said they did not have time to raise another child, and 38 per cent said their living space was too small.

Among those who had no children and no plans to have any, about half cited the emotional burden of child-rearing, closely followed by those who said the local environment was unsuitable for children.

Some 39 per cent said they did not have time to raise a child, and 25 per cent cited a lack of living space.

Respondents were also asked to pick and rank the five most important factors in raising a child.

Financial stability, mentioned by 83 per cent, and a good education system (68 per cent) were the two most important factors, while 51 per cent cited sufficient living space and 40 per cent mentioned social factors.

About two-thirds of respondents, 64 per cent, thought the government did not do enough to support families with children. That includes 8 per cent who felt government support was 'non-existent'.

Some 27 per cent said the level of government support was 'barely enough', while only 7.9 per cent felt it was sufficient.

As to what the government could do to help, 63.2 per cent wanted it to improve the education system. Asked whether they agreed that education in Hong Kong was adequate and affordable, 40 per cent disagreed or disagreed strongly, while 26.2 per cent had no opinion.

The government should help more with housing, 61.1 per cent of respondents said. Financial support - in the form of a tax exemption or allowance - was cited by 55.5 per cent. About 53 per cent said more family-friendly employment policies should be introduced.

Nearly half of those without children would consider having a baby if the government gave more support.

A spokesman for the Chief Secretary's Office said Hong Kong's population was growing despite the low fertility rate, thanks to immigration. He said relying on policy measures to increase the birth rate usually had limited success.