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Fertility refers to the average number of children born to women during their lifetime (The French Institute for Demographic Studies). The problem of low fertility rate has been one of the alarming demographic challenges faced by many countries and cities, including Hong Kong. Fertility rate in Hong Kong has been consistently much lower than the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. The following fertility rate essay will draw on the situation of fertility in Hong Kong, followed by the causes, impacts and suggestions regarding the problem.
Hong Kong has been experiencing low fertility rates for decades, with a decreasing trend being shown. According to the Census and Statistics Department, total fertility rate decreased from 1,235 births per 1,000 women in 2014 to 1,072 in 2019. Besides, according to the Fertility Trend of Hong Kong, the net reproduction rate, which eliminates the effect on fertility rate brought by gender ratio, decreased from 921 in 1981 to 540 in 2017, which was nearly half of the replacement level of 1,000. In addition, a continuous drop in fertility rate is projected, from 1 205 live births per 1,000 women in 2016 to 1,166 in 2066, according to the Hong Kong Population Projections 2017-2066. Therefore, in context with the descending fertility rate, Hong Kong’s fertility rate will be further lagged behind from the replacement level in the coming future. Evidently, Hong Kong has been facing serious fertility problem.
In spite of the fact that low fertility rate is a global issue faced by many different countries, Hong Kong’s fertility rate is still low when compared with other regions. Data from the Central Intelligence Agency (Central Intelligence Agency) shows that Hong Kong ranked the fourth lowest in the world in terms of total fertility rate, which is only 1.2 births per woman. The figure is already significantly low. Yet, it is reflected that the figure has overestimated Hong Kong’s fertility rate. Dr Law Chi-kwong stated that the figure would be much lower if the 9 to 10% of babies born to non-permanent resident mainland women and Hong Kong spouses, as well as domestic workers, were excluded from the count. In addition, total female population in Hong Kong should be higher as mainland Chinese mothers married to the city’s permanent residents and female domestic helpers are not included in the count. Therefore, the actual local fertility rate in Hong Kong should be lower than the figure of 1.2 births per woman used in the ranking. Hence, it is believed that Hong Kong’s fertility rate is amongst the lowest in the world.
Low fertility rate in Hong Kong has imposed a lot of challenges on the city’s development. Declining fertility rate has been one of the contributing factors to ageing population in Hong Kong. In 2019, population aged 65 or above accounted for 17.6% of its total population. Undoubtedly, Hong Kong is becoming an ageing society according to the definition that a country is defined as ‘aging’ when the share of people aged 65+ is above 7 percent, ‘aged’ when it is 14 percent or more. With decreasing fertility rate in an ageing society, a shrinking workforce will be resulted, implying fewer taxpayers. The elderly support ratio is projected to decrease from 3.93 in 2018 to 1.48 in 2066. Thus, tax burden of taxpayers will be increased in order to support the increasing demand in elderly welfares. At the same time, with lower labor force, constraints on Hong Kong’s development in different fields, such as innovation and technology aspects, are imposed. Thus, Hong Kong’s economic performance may get worse. Therefore, it is essential to resolve the problem of low fertility rate in Hong Kong.
The major cause of having low fertility rate in Hong Kong is low willingness in giving birth to babies. According to an interview done by The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong (FPAHK) as cited in Yip, as high as 67.3% of female respondents would not like to have first or additional child, while just 15.3% positive response were received. Moreover, the Youth Sexuality Study 2016 reported that the average ideal parity continued to decline to 1.33 among females and 1.37 among males. In addition, according to study done by FPAHK as cited in Yip, about 28.4 percent of respondents reported that their ideal number of children was zero. Clearly, the willingness of having children among people in Hong Kong is low.
Low willingness in having babies are resulted by a combination of factors, including unfavorable social environment and diminution of traditional beliefs. Firstly, unfavorable social environment in having children reduce people’s willingness to have children. 56.7% respondents said Hong Kong’s living environment is not suitable for raising children according to a survey done. Financially, high cost is involved in raising a child. A survey showed that 71.4% of respondents do not want to have children due to the financial burden of having children. With reference to the Hong Kong Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre as cited in Gu, the cost of raising a child from birth to college graduation in Hong Kong averages about 5.5 million Hong Kong dollars for a middle-class family. Under inflation, the cost of chil-rearing is much higher nowadays. To raise a child, apart from the basic expenses, such as on food and clothing, there is also high education expenses in order to pave the way for successful future of children, which high tuition fees are paid for attending extra-curricular classes and tutorial classes. High rent of small-sized flats in Hong Kong has also deterred couples from having babies. Hong Kong is notorious for its high rent and Nano flats. To raise a child, couples would have to pay for higher rents for a bigger flat to accommodate the family. Therefore, high cost involved in raising a child dissuade citizens to give births.
Apart from financial deterrent, huge responsibilities for parenting also discourages people from having children. 59.3% of respondents would like to be childless as they believe upbringing of children is a huge responsibility. Not only do parents need to bear huge financial responsibility, but also responsibility in taking care of children. Although the government has been providing a variety of support on childcare services, the quantity is far from satisfaction. In 2018, there is only 12 subsidized childcare centers in Hong Kong. The average waiting time for the Government subvented pre-school rehabilitation services falls in the range of 13.5 to 18.2 months. Without sufficient childcare support, people, especially working parents, have lower motivation to have children since they may concern about the arrangement on caretaking. If having children, working parents may need to resign from their job or recruit domestic helpers to look after of their children, which further increases their financial burden. In addition, parents in Hong Kong need to start life-planning for children since their young age, such as attending various playgroups and interview classes, in order to win at the starting line and nurture them into potential participants of prestigious schools. Thus, Hong Kong’s condition exerts tremendous pressure on parents and discourages people to give births.
Secondly, diminution of tradition beliefs has lessened people’s inclination to have children. Individualism grows among youngsters, which they value self-interest more than family. Instead of emphasizing on lineage continuity, people, especially youngster, accept small-size family structure or even childless family. Women in Hong Kong are now more educated and career-driven, so they would like to develop their career or interests rather than taking care of children at home. Moreover, women may find difficulties in balancing between family and work. Therefore, people have lower wish for giving births.
Apart from lower willingness in giving births, late marriage and spinsterhood also contribute to low fertility rate. A shortened fertile childbearing period after marriage is resulted from marriage postponement. The median age at first marriage for women rose from 25.3 in 1986 to 29.7 in 2018. The median age of women at first childbirth also increased from 26.6 in 1986 to 31.8 in 2018. However, it is found that women’s fertility decreases as age increases. For women, the easiest time to get pregnant is before the age of 30. With postponed marriage, it is therefore more difficult for married women to get pregnant. In addition, increased prevalence of spinsterhood cause fewer births in the city. With reference to the statistics, during 1986 to 2018, the number of never married persons aged 15 and over increased by 59.7% and 11.7% for women and men respectively. It is also found that there is lower wish of getting married among youngsters, which only less than half of the 18-27-year-olds indicated they would marry in future. For the above reasons, decline in fertility rate is resulted.
Declining fertility rate is an alarming demographic challenge, so the Government has introduced various measures in the hope of alleviating the problem, such as extension of paternity leave and tax reduction. Several more suggestions on easing the problem will be discussed.
First, the Government can provide more financial support to parents. There are large expenses on infants, such as purchases on diapers and crib. Taking page from the Baby Bonus Scheme from Singapore and Childbirth and Childcare Lump-sum Grant in Japan, by providing subsidies for families with newborn babies, this can hopefully lessen their financial burden, tackling the greatest concern of high expenses in bearing children. In addition, in the context of late marriage, the Government can provide more subsidies on medical fertility treatment. With lower cost on childbearing for infecund couples, they may be more willing to get pregnant artificially. Hence, fertility rate can be risen.
Secondly, the Government can promote family-friendly employment practices. Currently, there are 10-weeks maternity leave and 5-days paternity leave entitlements. However, the entitlement is still far below than the International Labor Organization’s standards of 14-weeks maternity leave. Therefore, it is suggested that the Government should extend the length of maternity leave in order to reduce the pressure on infants’ caretaking. Another measure is to encourage flexible working arrangement, such as working at home and flexible working hours. Some companies even allow workers to bring alone with their children to work and provide on-site childcare services. For example, in Australia, the insurance company IAG was one of the first companies to organize a national program of school holiday care for the children of its employees. Working parents can then work while taking care of their children or work accordingly to their children’s schedule. Thus, flexibility in working arrangement facilitates working parents to strike a balance between career and family.
Thirdly, the Government can provide more childcare support. Lack of subsidized childcare centers is observed. By providing more subsidized childcare services, not only can this relieve parents’ strain on childcare, but it can also lessen their financial burden. Furthermore, the Government can increase the number of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Many parents in Hong Kong, especially working parents, would hire foreign domestic helpers in taking care of children. However, currently, there is long waiting time for hiring a foreign domestic helper. By introducing domestic helpers from different countries, families will find it easier to hire one for childcare. Thus, this can reduce their pressure on child-rearing.
In conclusion, low fertility rate in Hong Kong is serious. Low willingness to childbearing, as well as diminution of traditional beliefs and late marriage, have contributed to the challenge. To combat the problem, it is suggested that more financial support and childcare support can be given. Moreover, a family-friendly employment practice should be promoted.
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