Ageing society

Sharp growth in Hong Kong’s elderly population worries census chief

Proportion aged 65 or above hits record 16 per cent, while under-14s account for just 11 per cent

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 8:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 2:53am

Hong Kong faces an increasingly “worrying” demographic challenge in the coming years with new population data released by government statisticians on Monday revealing an accelerated pace of ageing over the last decade.

According to summary results of the Census and Statistics Department’s 2016 by-census, the median age increased to 43.4 last year, from 39.6 in 2006 and 41.7 in 2011.

The proportion aged 65 or older increased from 12 per cent of the population in 2006 to a new high of 16 per cent. In 1986 the figure was just 8 per cent.

Hong Kong has a problem with population ageing, rather than an elderly problem

And while the elderly population continued to grow, the number of under-14s shrank from 14 per cent in 2006 to 11 per cent last year.

The biggest age group – aged 15 to 64 – dropped over the decade from 74 per cent of the population to 73 per cent. Some 7.34 million people were recorded in the census.

“The population pyramid is no longer a pyramid but taking more of the shape of a flowerpot or rugby ball,” said commissioner for census and statistics Leslie Tang Wai-kong, adding that the top heavy trend would continue to intensify if sociodemographic trends stayed the same.

“What worries me is that ... most people now are aged 50 to 59. Most people will be 60 to 69 in 10 years, 70 to 79 in another 10 and then 80 to 89.”

This is going to be a huge challenge
Leslie Tang Wai-kong, census commissioner

Tang said that if immigration policies stayed the same, there would not be enough births to supplement the labour force. A large population of seniors above the age of 80 would also put a huge strain on medical and care services. “This is going to be a huge challenge.”

The percentage of unmarried residents in the corresponding decade went up from 24.9 to 28.5 per cent for men and from 19.9 per cent to 22.5 per cent for women.

As fertility rates dropped, the size of the average domestic household shrank from 3.0 in 2006 to 2.8 last year. The sex ratio has also become increasingly skewed with just 852 males per 1,000 females, compared with 911 to 1,000 a decade ago.

The chair professor of social policy at Education University, Chou Kee-lee, said the trend could only be reversed if the government increased immigration and made better use of older workers, for instance by raising the retirement age or allowing the retired to work part-time. “Such policies, however, may not always prove popular politically,” he added.

The by-census is an exercise midway between the two full-scale population censuses conducted every 10 years. The last full-scale census was in 2011.

Last year’s by-census sampled 300,000 households – around 10 per cent of the total – by online questionnaire or face-to-face interview between June and August last year.

As for ethnic mix, the non-Chinese population grew from 5 per cent to 8 per cent, driven by Filipino and Indonesians coming to the city for work as domestic helpers as well as South Asian and white residents.

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Median monthly income increased from HK$10,000 to HK$15,000, which Tang said was higher than inflation.

The ratio of median rent to income for private housing grew from 25.2 per cent in 2006 to 30.7, while that of public rental housing stayed level.