Policies needed to make Hong Kong more family friendly

The city’s birth rate is one of the world’s lowest. While having children or not is ultimately a matter of personal choice, it becomes a public issue when the population becomes unhealthy as a result of low fertility.

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 1:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 1:05am

Much has been said about creating a more favourable environment for couples to have children. Yet the city’s birth rate is still one of the world’s lowest, with just some 62,000 babies born in 2014. While having children or not is ultimately a matter of personal choice, it becomes a public issue when the population becomes unhealthy as a result of low fertility.

Raising a family or not is of course shaped by personal factors like age, education and wealth. Increasingly, the socio-political environment also weighs on the minds of prospective parents. Our cramped living environment and high cost of living are certainly deterrents. The city’s spoon-fed education, air pollution and hectic lifestyle are also not helping either. An opinion poll found that three in five people said Hong Kong was hardly a good place for children to grow up. Many people also do not have high hopes of improvement within five years.

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Even for those who are prepared to be parents, pregnancy does not come easily. The number of fertility consultations handled by the Family Planning Association has doubled to 6,000 in 12 years. While the increase may be due to growing awareness, the association said a busy lifestyle could be one of the reasons affecting people’s sex lives. About one-third of women who sought help for infertility issues were found to suffer from sexual dysfunction.

We need a fertility rate of 2,100 children born for every 1,000 women to sustain healthy population development. Despite a rebound in recent years, the actual figures are way below the desirable level, ranging from 931 in 2001 to 1,235 in 2014. Unless the birth rate picks up at a faster rate, elderly people will account for one-third of the population by 2064.

Admittedly, issues like high property prices and living environment cannot be tackled overnight. But a raft of policy interventions, such as longer child-caring leave and more tax concessions for parents, should be considered to help create a more family-friendly environment.