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CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's education achievements threatened by rising youth poverty

Louisa Mitchell says our great social achievement of educating more girls is being threatened, along with their bright future, by rising youth poverty

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 5:21am

University students have just about finished their exams. Those few weeks of sleepless nights, caffeine overdoses, fast food and unwashed clothes worn again are over and the long wait for the results is beginning.

Roughly the same proportion of young women as men will have gone through the agonising past few weeks. Women constitute just over half of all students in Hong Kong's public universities today.

One of Hong Kong's greatest social achievements of the past few decades has been the turnaround in girls' education.

A recent study for Civic Exchange and The Women's Foundation, titled "The Changing Faces of Hong Kong", shows that 70 per cent of women aged 60 or over in 2011 had either no education or had only been to primary school, whereas only two per cent of women in their 20s were in that position (That's still two per cent too many, however).

The study also shows that 53 per cent of women in their 20s in 2011 achieved a post-secondary education (degree or non-degree). In 1991, that figure was 18 per cent.

Improved levels of educational attainment are a critical factor in improving women's and girls' lives. The recent study also shows that women in their 20s have achieved equality of earnings with men, before marriage, family responsibilities and other limitations when they reach their 30s start to create a gap.

The median monthly employment earnings for women and men in their 20s in 2011 was HK$10,000 when foreign domestic helpers are excluded. (The previous column in this series discussed the uncomfortable fact that earnings equality has been achieved at the expense of domestic helpers.)

However, inflation-adjusted earnings analysis shows that real earnings for men and women in their 20s have actually declined over the past decade from just over HK$11,000 in 2001 to HK$10,000 in 2011. They are worse off today than in 2001.

And they are only marginally better off than 20 years ago, with real earnings at just over HK$9,000 in 1991.

So we have a situation where women's educational attainment levels have improved dramatically, but young people's real earnings have stagnated.

In addition, the proportion of young men and women aged 25-34 who are living with their parents has increased as they marry later and property prices escalate.

Parents work hard to put their children through university, in the hope that they will have a bright future, but youth poverty is increasing. Career prospects are narrow in a society with little job diversity and there are limited options to share in the proceeds of economic growth.

If this continues, those few weeks of revision, instant noodles and dirty clothes will not seem like a hardship compared to the disappointment of real life.

It is a tremendous step forward for Hong Kong's women that the education gap and the earnings gap for young people starting out in their 20s has closed, but it will be wasted if we allow our young people to suffer the consequences of growing youth poverty.

Louisa Mitchell is an independent social policy researcher. This article is part of a series on women and gender issues, developed in collaboration with The Women's Foundation


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Yes. You are right. A misleading caption.
Yes it's true but there are many top universities in hong kong that offers generous grants to all it's students ****internationalstudentsguide.org/top-5-universities-in-hong-kong/
Why blather about women when it is a gender-neutral phenomenon? This is an issue of social stratification and wealth gap. In fact, in the foreseeable future, men will fare worse than women, as they always have.
Income has not kept pace with inflation in many countries in the past 20 years; Hong Kong is apparently no exception, at least as it pertains to young people. I am not surprised by this given the growth opportunities in the mainland and the relatively lower salaries there. Now that mainland salaries are much closer to HK salaries, perhaps there will be wage growth for Hong Kong's twentysomethings (and most others in HK) over the next 10-15 years. I think it is quite likely, but not tremendous growth, just a level above inflation.
The young graduates are no envy by those who aren’t graduates. Hong Kong particularly so. While a dividend from technology advancement with less need of human is at work, the monopolistic economy structure of Hong Kong giving less equal access to jobs further throw doubts before the young men and women alike. Secondly, the pessimistic outlook for the graduates is no less actually created by their parents. Parents equate education as a financial investment with expectation of a return by gainful employment by their children. I hope such tradition would be broken so young graduates can be free even taking up ‘menial’ work. They will be happy still if they are free.
Please proofread before you write in again - no wonder HK education is derided so much. There are over 20 mistakes which negate or distort meanings so much that it is hard if not impossible to decipher what your comment is supposed to be about.
Yes, it is pretty bad with endless mistakes.
I don't think the title fits the content...It's about women's education..."Hong Kong's education achievements threatened by rising youth poverty" what is it about?
The title is misleading. It was my reaction and still is.


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