Hong Kong’s aging population and low birth rates have been the focus of public discussion over the years.
According to the projections made by the Census and Statistics Department in 2017, population aging is likely to accelerate over the next 20 years, particularly over the next decade.
The percentage of those aged 65 and above is likely to rise from 17 percent in 2016 to 31 percent in 2036, and 37 percent in 2066. By that time, the number of seniors in our city is projected to reach 2.59 million.
Meanwhile, the crude birth rate stood at 7.7 percent in 2017, down nearly by half from 13 percent in 1986, and was pushing close to the record low of 7 percent in 2003.
And birth rates have remained low, the percentage of Hongkongers aged under 15 is likely to drop from 11.8 percent in 2016 to only 9.2 percent by 2066 according to government projections.
Indeed, population aging is a cause for concern in society.
To address this pressing issue, the government must formulate a stable and affordable social security policy.
It should also devise solid measures to encourage young couples to have more children to ease the negative implications of our aging population and help ensure an adequate labor force to maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness.
Unfortunately, our administration has remained passive when it comes to encouraging more births, insisting that having children is purely a family decision and excessive government intervention in this regard is inappropriate.
However, as problems related to the aging population and low birth rates become more pronounced, the government can no longer afford to dodge the issue.
Many young couples are reluctant to have children primary because the cost of raising a child in Hong Kong has continued to soar in recent years.
That being the case, the government should review the current child tax allowance and provide additional tax allowances for parents to ease their financial burden, particularly with regard to education and healthcare.
The administration should also consider providing every family with a newborn child with fixed cash allowance for three years.
At the same time, it should assume a more proactive role in promoting a family- and pregnancy-friendly environment by providing more community facilities for parents and pregnant women, enhancing childcare and after-school support services, offering free and high-quality kindergarten education, etc.
Under the current law, pregnant employees are only entitled to 10 weeks of maternity leave, far below international standards.
I believe the government should carefully look at the employment ordinances of other countries for reference and then extend the length of the statutory maternity leave and paternity leave while providing proper support for employers.
In the long run, the government should extend the statutory maternity leave to somewhere between 12 and 15 weeks.
Working women who have given birth to twins, triplets or more babies should be allowed to enjoy a 20-week maternity leave.
Apart from devising specific measures to encourage local couples to have children, the government should also step up efforts at improving housing and enhancing environmental protection in order to raise the overall quality of life of our citizens.
I believe birth rates would definitely rise if the people of Hong Kong are feeling more bullish and optimistic about the future.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 2
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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