Currently, the Hong Kong fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world at around 1.1 children per woman (remember, the rate at which each generation replaces itself naturally is about 2.1 children per woman). With this fact in mind, it is understandable that the Hong Kong government is trying to think up ways to encourage people to have more babies. But, after reading this piece by Alice Wu in the South China Morning Post, I can also see why the issue of low fertility is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Wu thinks that the reasons for the “ridiculously low birthrate” are as “obvious as they are numerous”. In large part, they can be put down to housing affordability:
“People here aren’t having babies primarily because there simply isn’t enough room in a regular home to house a young family, and the housing issue has been plaguing Hong Kong for years…The lack of space and the astronomical price tag that comes with purchasing a home make for great disincentives.”
As Wu notes, the irony is that prospective parents need to work longer and harder to save up to provide housing for their family, thus making their job as parents when the baby does come, that much harder:
“And so, to work for that extra few square feet of living space for a baby, people work harder, longer and spend more time investing; in other words, to better provide for their family, parents or would-be parents have to make themselves increasingly scarce – physically, mentally and emotionally – for their family. And that is the mother of all ironies of modern-day life.
Employers have long capitalised on this aspiration to better provide for the family. Employees work longer hours and endure more stress without compensation for a sense (sometimes a false one) of job security. And so the workplace becomes increasingly unfriendly to family life and work hours get excruciatingly long.”
Aside from the economic and employment difficulties, Wu’s list of other issues leaves little room for optimism:
“Our education system doesn’t encourage people to become parents. The competition is harsh, the stress is enormous, and it’s extraordinarily expensive. Compound that with the lack of time available outside work, the growing wealth gap, and a whole list of everyday life stresses that include ageing parents, inflation, the increasing cost of living, wage stagnation, pollution and, more recently, lack of choice in free entertainment, and it isn’t hard to understand why people aren’t procreating.”
What is the answer? To accept that Hong Kong is not child-friendly and that Hong Kong will need to rely on immigration from the mainland for its future taxpayers? If Wu is correct, it does seem that being a parent in Hong Kong is extremely difficult. For those of you with first-hand experience of Hong Kong, what do you think? Is this view accurate? What can be done to change things for prospective parents?