Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Negative Population Growth

Hong Kong has a shrinking population, as the birth rate has fallen further in the past five years because the number of one-child families have outpaced two-children families for the first time.

A survey of 1,518 married or co-habitating women aged 15 to 49 surveyed by the Family Planning Association says 37.5 percent had one child, while 32 percent had two. This makes the average number of children per household at a record low of 1.12 last year compared to 1.49 in 2007 and 1.6 in 2002.

While Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, chairman of the association's research sub-committee says the proportion of childless families also rose markedly from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 23.4 percent in 2012, it did not mean Hong Kong people did not like children.

The survey found most respondents wanted to have two children, but 39 percent of women ended up having fewer children than they wanted -- the biggest gap between actual and desired outcome since 1987.

That's because -- surprise surprise -- of financial pressure, long working hours and late marriages.

The economic pressures are the biggest factor for 29.7 percent of women, up 15.4 percent from five years ago.

In the question asking respondents what government policies would encourage them to have more children, this time more than 50 percent cited subsidies for education, medical services and housing.

Then there's the issue of late marriages. The current average is 28, which makes it harder for women to have children by the age of 35, when the pregnancy rate drops even further.

As a result Dr Susan Fan Yun-sun, the association's executive director said couples should think ahead and adjust their life goals so they would not have any regrets.

Or as my ex-colleague used to say, no time is ever a good time to have children -- in other words you can never plan to have the perfect conditions to have a child.

Hong Kong's fertility rate is now at 1.2, the same as Singapore, but lower than Japan's at 1.4 and the United States at 2.0. Only Taiwan is lower at 1.1.

Yip says the Hong Kong government should be concerned about these numbers and try to think of policies to encourage families to have more children.

"Sixty percent of support given to the elderly comes from their families. If the elderly have no children, the responsibility of taking care of them will fall on the government," Yip said.

The government could also be more progressive in mandating companies offer new mothers more flexible work hours or part time positions so that they can not only feel relatively productive, but also have more time for their children. Right now the option is either work full time or quit.

Mothers today aren't as willing to sacrifice everything for their careers -- they want some kind of balance -- on their own terms. And why not give it to them? They're smart, savvy and hardworking. Why shut them out just because they want to have one or more children? We should be supporting them in propagating the future of Hong Kong.

1 comment:

  1. Years ago, when I was at college, I did a research project on female infanticide (for a biological anthropology course). Among my findings was that female infanticide decreases with increased education of females in a society -- and it's also the case that birthrates decrease with the increased education of females in a society.

    So... perhaps one other reason for the decreased birthrate in Hong Kong is that education levels of -- and rates for -- Hong Kong women have increased? And yes, I do see this as also probably connected to the later marriages (in that graduates tend to marry later in life than non-graduates, etc.) and other cited trends.