• Fri
  • Jul 25, 2014
  • Updated: 1:38am
PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 5:35am

More immigration has not seen Singapore surpass Hong Kong

While the Lion City's more open immigration policy may have boosted its overall GDP, Hong Kong is still better off on a per-head measure


As the writer of the South China Morning Post’s Monitor column, Tom Holland attempts each day to make sense of the latest developments in business, finance and economic affairs in Hong Kong and mainland China.

If you take your date out to the cinema "grooming is important", and don't try to entertain her with a running commentary on the movie. It's "not cool at all".

Those two nuggets of advice for would-be romantics were gleaned from a colourful booklet titled The Art of Dating, published by the Social Development Unit of the Singapore government.

Known to locals as the SDU, this Orwellian body was established in 1984 as a government-run dating agency for unmarried graduates, after then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew decided that Singapore's highly educated middle classes were not procreating with enough enthusiasm.

He had a point. From an average of more than five babies per woman in the early 1960s, Singapore's fertility rate plunged after independence, falling below the minimum population replacement rate of 2.1 per woman in the late '70s.

Not surprisingly, given the quality of its dating advice, the government-run SDU failed to reverse the trend. By last year, according to the CIA World Factbook, Singapore's fertility rate had fallen to just 0.78 children per woman, the lowest of any country in the world.

Aware that its lavish package of incentives, which include heavily subsidised fertility treatments, fast-track housing for couples with children, generous tax rebates and cash "baby bonuses" of up to S$24,000 (HK$150,000) per child, were not encouraging Singaporeans to breed, the government long ago turned to immigration to boost the city's population and to maintain its economic growth rate.

From just 4.1 million 10 years ago, Singapore's population leapt to 5.3 million last year, thanks almost entirely to a massive influx of immigrants. Today, two million of the island republic's population are outsiders.

Despite a rising sense of grievance among native Singaporeans at this inflow, the government is undeterred. This week it published a policy white paper targeting an increase in population to 6.9 million by 2030, just 3.6 million of whom will be locals.

Predictably, the publication of Singapore's policy paper triggered a bout of breast-beating in Hong Kong.

On the front page of Wednesday's South China Morning Post, Paul Yip, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Social Work and Social Administration (which sounds almost as creepy as the SDU) protested that Hong Kong, with a fertility rate nearly as low as Singapore's, also needs a long-term population policy. "The problem is very urgent," he warned.

People like Yip worry that Hong Kong needs either a higher birthrate or faster immigration to support economic growth as Hong Kongers get older and the city's working-age population begins to decline.

At first, the comparison with Singapore would appear to confirm this view.

Over the past 10 years, Hong Kong's population has grown by just 6 per cent, while Singapore's has jumped by 29 per cent. Over the same period, Hong Kong's gross domestic product has grown at a 4.5 per cent average annual rate. That is lacklustre compared with Singapore's 6.1 per cent, especially considering we are right next door to a booming China.

But although it gladdens the hearts of bureaucrats, absolute size of GDP is not what matters. Far more important to most people is their standard of living.

And here, Hong Kong has done rather better. Over the past 10 years our GDP per capita has risen at an inflation-adjusted average annual rate of 3.9 per cent, while Singapore has only managed 3.6 per cent.

So before C. Y. Leung and Carrie Lam start dispensing dating advice, or throwing Hong Kong open to a wave of newcomers, perhaps they ought to reflect that quality of life is far more important to most people than the absolute size of the city's GDP.



More on this story

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

Value added to labour as percent of gdp here is 40 per cent higher ...and that is what you earn as a chunk of the economy and is what matters
" Value added to labour " ??????????? Swahili?
It would make a lot of sense to look at the composition and quality of the immigrants. Also, establishing a link between a macro figure such as GDP and a specific policy e.g. immigration is prone to be difficult as there are many confounding factors.
I suspect that Tom is still upset with the immigration here in singapore because he was packed off to HK for snorting about a decade ago.
Give him some credit. he does write some common sense from time to time.
But to say that the standard of living in HK is better than Singapore is exaggerated delusion to say the least.
Firstly, you can barely breathe good and clean air in HK.
Then you get squeezed not just in your pocket but on your backside as well.
The apartment size in Hk is less than half in Singapore, where the population density is higher.
And let us not get to money part. Singaporeans are on average richer than HK cousins, and there are more job options than ending up as a journalist like the geezer.
Lastly, what's a foreigner (albeit resident of HK) doing talking about govt policies on immigration?
Maybe the HK govt should send him home to Britain on a junk and make more space for the locals
Last visit before taking off for weekend
Simply, I concur with Xiaoblueleaf and SpeakFreely
their remarks on TH and HK/SGP comparison
whymak, don’t forget aircon;
that’s why balls get private chamber
Simple-minded analysis, as usual. Singapore has done well despite its geographical isolation
whereas Hong Kong has prospered mainly on the largees of mainland China as the former government is pro-active whereas HK's is regressive or ineffective to say the least.
I have a humble opinion. One, promote the pornography industry. Two, levy a 1000% excise tax on all contraceptive devices. Third, any married or unmarried young couple will be allowed to participate in a lottery for a "conditional" free night in the best of Hong Kong hotels, Four Seasons, Ritz Carleton or whatever. If they could successfully copulate 3 times or more a night - as monitored by a machine, the hotel bill and the next morning's breakfast will be on the house - I mean the government.
Geezers need not apply. Fair enough?
This article is nonsense. If you want to compare standard of living, the absolute size of GDP does matter- Singapore's GDP per capita ($60,688) is still much higher than HK's ($50,551) by about 20% based on World Bank numbers. I am not sure the article is accurate in representing real growth of GDP per capita as a measure of standard of living. Especially if you take into account the population growth of both countries in the last 10 years- Singapore has maintained a higher GDP per capita despite a massive 29% spike in population. And we haven't even accounted for the distribution of wealth in both countries. I doubt HK is truly better off on a per head measure because it beat Singapore by 0.3% growth per annum on a GDP per capita basis. I suppose one can play with data to make it say whatever one wants-
Let’s both talk more “nonsense” to amuse Mr. Holland. The numbers you just quoted are GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power parity, PPP.
When people talk about GDP between 2 countries, some problems become apparent. First, you must account for differences in foreign exchange. Second, you must know what it costs for the same basket of goods in each country when prices are stated in a standard store of value, the US dollar.
Stated in dollars without any adjustments for actual price differences of goods in nominal GDP, an American is 32 times as rich as an Indian. Adjusted for PPP, GDP difference narrows to only 13 times.
PPP is not so easy to explain. First, we have to determine what goes into a standard basket. Secondly, there are non-tradable and tradable goods.
Here is an example of the former. As a geezer, it costs me only $0.26 per ride in the clean, safe modern HK Metro, but it’s $2.25 for the dirty, muggers-haven New York subway.
For the tradables at the simplest level, we must use the “law of one price” and marginal factor productivity. I leave the rest to your Econ 101 professor.
For demonstrating morons not reading this wonderful discussion, we should send them to Mr. Holland 's boot camp for more education.
Whatsoever!! High GDP per-capita is not everything to the people. At least Hong Kong is free and interesting!




SCMP.com Account