Ageing society

Thinking of retiring at 60? Think again – we’ll work longer, Hong Kong population projection shows

More women and older workers to fill gap in workforce as birth rate stays low and population ages

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 10:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 10:30am

Thinking of retiring at 60? Think again, because the latest official population projection shows that Hongkongers will live longer and leave the workforce later.

The trend will mean more women staying in their jobs, with 45 per cent of those aged between 60 and 64 in employment by 2066, up from 29 per cent last year.

Experts expect the city’s workforce to shrink in the coming years, but that reduction will be delayed from previous estimates as more people aged 60 or above stay in work.

In a projection from 2015 the working population was estimated to peak next year at 3.65 million people, but is now projected to do so between 2019 and 2022, during which period the number of workers will fluctuate from between 3.49 million and 3.51 million, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

“In recent years, there have been more elderly residents staying in the workforce,” said Marion Chan Shui-yu, deputy commissioner for census and statistics. “This will reduce the financial burden on the government [as the population ages].”

The latest projection, published on Friday, shows that the proportion of people aged 15 or above in work will dip from 59 per cent last year to 49 per cent by 2066.

However, 55 per cent of people aged 60 to 64 will be in employment by that year, up from 45 per cent last year, while the figure for those 65 or older will be about 10 per cent over the next 50 years.

The proportion of women aged 65 or above in work will grow from 4.9 per cent to 6.2 per cent.

Life expectancy for Hong Kong men will increase from 81.3 last year to 87.1 by 2066, and for women from 87.3 to 93.1.

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Paul Yip Siu-fai, chair professor of population health at the University of Hong Kong, said there had been more women working over the years, and the importance of maintaining family incomes and careers would keep them doing so until an older age.

“Overall, women’s career choices and skills have been improving,” Yip said. “It is a good thing to release more women into the labour force.”

There is no official retirement age in Hong Kong but the government requires recently recruited civil servants to retire at 65. Private sector employees normally retire at 60, but in recent years more companies have allowed them to stay until 65.

The latest projection shows Hong Kong’s ageing society will continue, with the number of people aged 65 or above doubling in the next two decades and by 2066 they will account for almost 40 per cent of the city’s population.

The overall population is expected to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, before dropping to 7.72 million by 2066.

From 2026, the annual number of deaths – estimated at 56,400 for that year – will outgrow the annual number of births – 55,800 that year. By 2066 there will be 98,000 people dying annually with just 41,700 babies born.

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Dr Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the government-appointed Elderly Commission and a member of the Executive Council that advises Hong Kong’s leader, said the government needed to improve its planning in introducing more overseas workers, keeping local talent, encouraging more families to have children and more children to live with their ageing parents.

Introducing more nursing specialists to take care of the elderly, making it easier for overseas doctors to work in Hong Kong, encouraging companies to offer more paid maternity and paternity leave and building more day care centres should all be considered, Lam said, as well as increasing tax exemptions for those living with their parents.

He believed the current one-way permit system allowing a maximum of 150 mainlanders a day to settle in Hong Kong permanently would not solve the ageing population issue by itself, because Hong Kong was only passively accepting these migrants.

And the projection shows fewer of these migrants will come in the future, with the number dropping from an average of 128 per day last year to 100 from mid-2026.

Chan said this projection was based on the trend of more Hong Kong women marrying mainland men, which rose from 19 per cent of all cross-border marriages in 2006 to 33 per cent last year. Chan said mainland husbands were less likely to settle in Hong Kong.