Ageing society

Why more young Hong Kong couples are saying bye-bye baby

  • When even white-collar workers struggle with working hours and social mobility hopes grow dimmer still, the future hardly seems bright for children
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 10:11pm

It is hardly surprising that the fertility rate among married couples in Hong Kong has remained low, according to findings released by the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong (“Trend of low fertility in Hong Kong is here to stay”, December 8).

A host of factors contribute to the reluctance of middle-class couples to even consider having a baby. The long working hours, rocketing property prices and competitive work culture are some of the more obvious reasons that deter educated Hongkongers from starting a family. Even white-collar workers who earn a decent salary cannot escape the long hours at work. Their quality of life is not as good as the working class may believe, so why would educated workers want their kids to suffer the same fate or worse?

Those who do have children may turn into helicopter parents, hovering above their children at every stage of their growth, given the city’s exam-oriented education system and competitive job market. Having gone through the ruthless exam system ourselves, my wife and I, both in our mid 30s, are among those white-collar workers who have all but given up on having children, as we both know deep down how tough it is to climb up the social ladder. The poignant reality is that only the academically capable have a good chance of upward mobility, while those with less academic talent have to struggle very hard to lead a quality life.

The working class, by contrast, seems to be most willing to have children, owing to traditional family values. Ironically, they often lack the resources needed, such as money, time and education, to raise kids well; the results are inter-generational poverty, behavioural and academic problems, and an over-reliance on public resources.

Domestic violence, child abuse and family tragedies may occur in these families, which often can be attributed to financial disputes between family members and conflicts resulting from the lack of space at home.

What deters Hong Kong women from having children

Undeniably, the low birth rate will lead to a smaller workforce, and an ageing population will put further strain on public services.

To give young couples the impetus to start a family, the government could offer more cash incentives or tax waivers. Tougher property cooling-measures to curb speculation and a constant supply of affordable housing would do the trick, too. Last but not least, importing more reliable domestic helpers who can help couples look after children is also of great importance.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai