Ageing society

Hong Kong’s high longevity rates are not guaranteed

Hong Kong has the world’s longest life expectancy. With a fast-ageing society, more must be done to provide adequate pensions, health care and facilities for future generations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 9:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 9:53pm

Those who fret about Hong Kong’s air pollution, cramped living conditions and long working hours are surely bewildered that the city’s people have the longest life expectancy in the world. The latest global data collated by Japan’s health, labour and welfare ministry showed local women live to an average of 87.66 years and men 81.70 years. Theories abound as to the longevity and those searching for the secret of a long life are naturally drawn to our city for answers. But data sets are fickle, being shifted annually by birth rates, migration patterns and even natural disasters, so a more pertinent question should be to wonder how long such a ranking can be sustained.

Japanese for years held the top spot, but the 15,894 deaths in the nation’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 so shook up statistics that Hong Kong women gained the edge. Positions reversed in 2012, but since 2016, Hong Kong’s men and women both have the longest average life expectancy at birth. Improved medical treatment and technology mean that people the world over are living longer. But research also points to diet, resilience, adaptability and healthy lifestyles.

How Hong Kong’s ageing society can be an ‘age-friendly society’

Low smoking rates have been referenced by Hong Kong health experts as being among reasons for Hongkongers living longer than people in Japan and other developed economies. Minuscule levels of infant and maternal mortality have also been highlighted. But Hong Kong being a city with a small area is also believed to contribute; comparing so easily managed a place with a country is arguably not fair, while compactness means that people in crisis can easily and quickly receive the help they need. Then there is the thinking that those now in their eighth decade and older are extraordinary people who survived the hardship of China’s civil war, Japanese invasion and brutality, famine and poverty and are therefore tough of character, body and mind.

But such factors do not guarantee younger generations will maintain high longevity rates. A fast-ageing society means authorities have to do more to ensure that in coming years, there are adequate pensions, medical services and facilities for the aged. There also has to be healthy food, a clean environment and less stressful living.