There are good reasons why our young are rebellious and resentful
Opportunities to start businesses, or even get on the career ladder, are far fewer than a generation or two ago; is it any wonder that Hongkongers are gloomy?
Hongkongers are a gloomy bunch. We are unhappier about life than our counterparts in Singapore and Shanghai. More than 40 per cent of us have thought about leaving Hong Kong, according to a recent Civic Exchange survey. And the younger our people, the more dismal they feel.
Meanwhile, the editor of the influential Times Higher Education warns that Asian universities, including those in Hong Kong, lack the kind of creativity and risk-taking attitude to compete with the best.
Is this because our young people are not ambitious and driven enough, and are too spoiled, to make themselves competitive? Or is it because they are handed a bad deal compared to the older generations?
A new study by the Legislative Council’s research office seems to point to the latter. It actually examines the current employment patterns in Hong Kong across all working-age groups, but I will only focus on the social mobility, job opportunities and salaries of young people, especially university graduates. It’s not a pretty picture.
The rapid expansion of university places in the past two decades turned out 854,000 people with university degrees, but the economy only produced 666,000 higher-skill jobs.
Between 1994 and 2001, higher-skill jobs such as professionals, managers and administrators, absorbed an average of 47 per cent of university graduates. But between 2008 and last year, that was down to 38 per cent. Most now get worse jobs. Between 1994 and 2001, only 12 per cent of degree holders needed to work in low-end jobs such as clerks, and in frontline service and shop sales. After 2008, this rose to 26 per cent.
Entrepreneurship has gone way down from 1991 to today. In 1991, one in four bosses were aged 34 or younger. Last year, only 9 per cent of employers were young by that age definition. Since bosses generally earn more than workers, that trend also helps depress wages for young people. Among the reasons cited in the Legco study are: the disappearance of manufacturing and the import/export trade, reduced appetite and incentive for risk-taking, high rents and lack of funding sources.
It’s hard to pin the blame on any one group. We are all responsible for these negative trends. But it’s easy to see why we are now reaping the whirlwind of youthful rebellion and resentment.