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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 6:23am
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong fails in attempt to halt 20-year slide in birth rate

Researchers claim attempts to reverse decline in the past were misdirected as they prepare to launch the city's biggest demographic survey

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 10:44am


  • None at all: 41%
  • Just one child: 18%
  • More than one: 41%
16 Jan 2013
  • None at all
  • Just one child
  • More than one
Total number of votes recorded: 400

Researchers about to launch Hong Kong's largest demographic survey say attempts to halt the 20-year decline in the city's birth rate have proved ineffective.

And they suggested alternative policies could have increased the birth rate by nearly a third.

The team at the University of Hong Kong will begin a five-year study after receiving funding of HK$3.7 million from the government's University Grants Committee last month.

But in their preliminary findings released ahead of the policy address today, they questioned repeated appeals by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen for families with two children to have a third child.

This would potentially have increased the birth rate by only 10 per cent, they said.

Instead, the government would have been better off encouraging childless couples to have one baby and those with one child to have two.

They concluded this could have increased the birth rate by 30 per cent.

Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, leader of the research team, said: "To go from two to three [children] involves serious considerations about living space and the cost involved. But couples without children or with one child are more willing to give birth if they are encouraged."

At present, more than 60 per cent of the city's married couples have not had children or have had only one child.

The birth rate of Hong Kong has consistently dropped from 1,933 per 1,000 women in 1981 to 1,204 in 2011, below the replacement level of 2,100. It is projected to sink to 1,151 by 2041.

Yip will sit on a steering committee on population policy which will hold its first meeting on Friday. He said the study would also address what the researchers said was a failure to lay out a road map to tackle the issue of the city's ageing population. They will look at the impact of the ageing population on health care services, welfare provision, the labour force and the economy.

Experts had warned that ageing problems would become more apparent from last year as "baby boomers" born after the second world war began turning 60 and entering retirement.

By 2041, it is estimated that a third of the city's population city will be over 65, compared with 13 per cent in 2011.

Co-investigator Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, chairman of the Elderly Commission, said: "We need better housing, education and a better environment to encourage births, and we also need to retain old people with rich experience and knowledge in the workforce."

Yip said past research had proved to be fragmented, with some of it misleading.

He added: "For example, some have created a social stigma against mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong.

"In fact, many of these parents are professionals who are highly educated."


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The decline in population in Hong Kong since 1980s is in jarring contradiction with Chinese tradition for multiple children. We should know why before jumping into conclusion in suggesting who to bear children as the academic study have done. It is also presumptuous for the previous CE to see Hong Kong needs to booze the population. I will debate that. I respect the wisdom of the no-child action among the locals – no child should subject to life and death environment of which Hong Kong has become. Perhaps even to strive for a birth rate in replacement level for Hong Kong is inappropriate. Hong Kong has been overly populated for what buildable land it has. The pillar industry over the years in property development has had manipulated Hong Kong’s natural population through daily influx of migration from mainland. Hong Kong will further deteriorate by not stopping borrowing other people to fill any space there is. The true decline of Hong Kong population should be comparing with its natural population in Hong Kong. New population policy that reflects availability in buildable land is needed. The 5-year study by the Hong Kong University seems to be a total waste.
Look at all those radical kids in HK...still want to have more kids?
Save the 3.7M. Just let Mainlanders give birth here.
Incentives to have one or more children would be :
- We are able to control property prices so that living in a bigger place won't cost you 20 years of saving and another 20 years of mortgage.
- We are providing a developed education system so that so called International school are not needed and we don't need to spend 50% of our income to our children education.
If those 2 points can't be solved at the same time, couple will always be facing the same dilemma : Do I save money for a place a to live or for my children education. Or to put it simply you can't afford to pay for a bigger place AND to pay for a child education.
Right now many parents feel they can't afford to have another child.
However the government could have allowances so that parents couldn't afford not to have children.
That would sove the problem.
In the absence of immigration, when women are having an average of 1 child each, the population will halve in size in each generation. So in just 3 generations the population will be just 1/8th of what it was before. If that were to happen, then 7 out of 8 residences would need to be demolished and would be near worthless.
Another solution which I feel is worth considering is to encourage unmarried mothers to have children. I am aware that culturally it's quite alien, but there are many women who haven't quite found the right man to marry, but would very much like to have a child.
Iceland has a birthrate of 1.89 babies per woman, much higher than Hong Kong, but the majority of those babies are born to unmarried women.
Why don't problems caused by sky high property prices get any attention here? We make too much for public housing but can only afford a shoebox if we buy a home. How can anybody be expected to raise multiple children in a few hundred square feet of living space? This is the real issue.
Arguing over which groups to target for encouragement is moot. Hong Kong is one of the most family-unfriendly cities in the world, with public transportation and accessibility designed to punish couples with small children. Child-friendly shops and malls are few and far between, and the public parks place higher priority on appearances than actual function. I would argue that the 3.7 million used for research could have been better spent. Furthermore, Hong Kong's work environment provides significant disincentives to raise a family. Hong Kong should follow the example of Singapore in its approach to family-friendly policies and environment.
err. Singapore's approach didnt work any better.. in fact they imported a quarter of pops from China last 5 yrs.. from roughly 4m to 5m now.. wouldnt it be btr to let the mainlanders give here instead? at least the kids will grow up like real Hongkongers..
Unfortunately, Singapore itself is suffering from low birthrate of 1.2 per woman. There is no easy fix to expensive education and housing...


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