Hong Kong's young need to log off, go out, get a job - and grow up

Peter Kammerer says a lack of good jobs and high living costs mean more young adults live at home, faces buried in a screen, with little desire to change

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 November, 2015, 2:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 November, 2015, 2:11pm

One item on my bucket list is somewhat embarrassing. I have long wanted to go to Comic-Con in San Diego, the pop culture extravaganza held each July that features everything related to comic books, science fiction and all in-between. But it's not so much that I'm a Star Trek nerd or Harry Potter fan. More, it's the desire to see those in their 20s and older who are living in a fantasy world and haven't yet moved out of their parents' home.

There are more such people out there than you would think. I encounter them all the time on public transport, their faces buried in a screen. As a rule, they are young adults; the self-same people encountered at the annual Ani-Com and Games Hong Kong leafing excitedly through manga or taking part in cosplay contests. If I was of a less charitable nature, I would give them a stern rebuke and ask them when they think they will be ready to grow up.

A generation is growing up that is trapped between childhood and adulthood

This is an important matter with singles day on the mainland and in other places on Wednesday; it's a time for those eager for a relationship that may lead to marriage and a family to consider why they aren't having much luck. Could it possibly have something to do with their paying so much attention to the online world that they forget about how to act in the one they face each time they walk out the front door?

In Hong Kong, as elsewhere, it is increasingly difficult to determine when someone has become an adult. Laws determine that it is 18, but traditions and economics also mean that many are still living under their parents' roof into their 30s. Even if they wanted to move out, they couldn't: high housing costs and the inability to get a job that pays well eliminates the possibility of living independently.

Consequently, a generation is growing up that is trapped between childhood and adulthood. Some young people are frustrated at not being able to move to the next stage of life, while others, ensconced in a comforting home environment, have little or no desire to change. The median age at which Hongkongers marry for the first time is about 30.

READ MORE: What young people really think about housing in Hong Kong

A host of terms have arisen for this global trend, which is especially prevalent in places with high unemployment rates among the young. American social scientist Diane Singerman coined one in 2007, "waithood", to describe the period of limbo preceding marriage in which young adults are in the prime of their life, yet feel helpless and are dependent on others. Long periods of waiting can lead to a loss of ambition or desire to move out: in Japan, such young people are called freeters , in the English-speaking world slackers, spongers and basement dwellers, while Italians call them bamboccioni , essentially mummies' boys. Hong Kong has no specific word, the closest being a four-character expression that translates as idlers - although this applies to all people without work.

My eldest son, 24 and still living at home, technically does not fit the mould as he has a job and a good income. But he does not feel as if he is a fully fledged adult, believing that will come only with his own home, marriage and the responsibility of children. That was essentially the conclusion of a recent survey of 2,000 young Britons by the online insurer Beagle Street. They did not think of themselves as adults until 29 due to living at home longer and a reluctance to settle for a "real" job. For 68 per cent, becoming adult was defined as moving into their own home, for 63 per cent becoming a parent and for 52 per cent, marriage.

Getting a steady income is crucial to having a positive mindset. But that can't be found messing around with games and social media. Here's a starting point: turn that screen off and go and meet some people in person. You may find a contact for a job, an employer and even romance.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post