Child-rearing’s financial arms race warrants a rethink of our values

The pressure to get children into the best schools and make their lives as full and enriching as possible can easily lead to stress for families.

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2016, 12:37am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2016, 1:08am

Child-rearing is expensive the world over, but in Hong Kong, it can be especially burdensome. The pressure to get children into the best schools and make their lives as full and enriching as possible comes with a hefty price tag, as the majority of parents only too well know. With competition ever-increasing, that can easily lead to stress for families. An unhealthy situation has evolved that society needs to reflect upon for its own sake.

The costs of raising a child beyond university can be staggering: by the Post’s anecdotal reckoning, for the top money-earners it is HK$14.2 million, the middle class HK$7 million and the grass roots HK$2.6 million. Education and associated costs like after-school music or maths tuition account for a large proportion; for lower-income families, half or more. The figures make the controversial claim a decade ago by Olympic windsurfing gold medallist Lee Lai-shan in a bank advertisement that a family would have to spend HK$4 million less than startling.

Competition rather than the cost of living is behind the rise; wages have certainly not increased by so much in that time. Getting a child into the best schools is perceived as the path to a good life. For many, that quest begins at kindergarten and impressing principals with a glowing portfolio of extracurricular activities has become a standard practice for each level of education. To pass exams, there are extra costs for tuition, while a belief that children should be further kept busy with sport or drawing classes brings additional fees.

Hong Kong’s hierarchical education system, with its bands and elite, private and international schools does not help. Successful children are determined by many Hongkongers to be those that have a high salary, flat and a car. That goal is more likely to be attainable for the wealthy; it is less so for the 10 per cent in the middle class and unless a child is intellectually gifted, it can be a tussle for the rest. It is in effect a financial arms race that warrants a rethink of our values.