Opportunities brought by the ageing population

November 20, 2023 11:55
Photo: https://www.cpr.cuhk.edu.hk

According to the government projection, the average life expectancy of men and women in Hong Kong in 2022 was 81.3 and 87.2 years respectively, the highest in the world. A paper published in The Lancet by the University of Hong Kong in conjunction with British and Australian scholars, compared the mortality rate in 18 rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), concludes that Hong Kong citizens, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, have the lowest mortality rates due to cardiovascular, female cancer, smoking and traffic accidents. Data from 1979 to 2016 shows that the average life expectancy in Hong Kong is 1.86 years longer for men and 2.5 years longer for women.

Compared to the 1970s, the average life expectancy of Hong Kongers today has increased by more than 10 years. As the birth rate falls, longevity and ageing population have brought much pressure on society, not only a decline in productivity, but also the allocation of resources such as health, welfare and housing in favour of the elderly, and may reduce investment in infrastructure and education.

On the other hand, the longevity also brings new opportunities, and if the human resources of the elderly are well utilised, it may alleviate the problem of Hong Kong's shrinking labor force after the epidemic.

The solution is to encourage more highly educated seniors to return to the workforce.

At present, the elderly in the work force are mainly low-educated and low-skilled. According to the 2021 Population Census, the proportion of the aged population has accelerated over the past decade, with the number of elderly aged 65 and above nearly tripling from 2011 to 1.45 million, of which 33% are aged 65-69. During the same period, the elderly working population also increased from 65,000 to 210,000 in 2021.

However, the median monthly income of the elderly working population in main employment in 2021 was $11,100, only 60% of the median income of the whole working population. The government analyses that the main reasons for the low income of the elderly might be due to “their relatively lower educational attainment, and their fewer working hours”. The figures show that these elders are concentrated in low skilled occupations such as "services and sales workers" and "elementary occupations". At the same time, professionals are underrepresented – 4.6% of the working population of the elderly while 11.2% of the whole working population.

Meanwhile, nearly three in ten adults aged 65 and above in Hong Kong have high school education or above (“upper secondary” was seen as high qualification in the 1960s and 1970s as there were very limited upper secondary and university places). Most of these baby-boomers with knowledge, experience, skills and business network have retired in recent years when many young workers have left, hindering the development of the Hong Kong’s knowledge-based economy. In competing for more talents globally, the situation inevitably leads to higher average wage level, which is going to affect the city’s competitiveness.

Therefore, the Government should work with the business sector to formulate policies and measures, such as tax incentives, to encourage more highly educated elders to return to the workforce, so as to retain valuable human resources. On the other hand, for those elderly still staying in the workplace, they can continue to play to their strengths while increasing social participation, and helping to reduce loneliness caused by retirement and promoting mental health. Further, they can keep pace with technology development. Therefore, this is indeed a win-win solution.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong