It has often been said that Hong Kong's greatest asset is its
people. Their hard work, resilience and entrepreneurial spirit have
transformed Hong Kong into one of the world's greatest economic
success stories. But sustaining this success for future generations
will be a major challenge as a low birth rate, an ageing population
and longer life expectancies cause critical changes in demographic
THE urgent need for Hong Kong to develop a comprehensive population policy
was highlighted by the Chief Executive in his second-term Inaugural Speech
on July 1, 2002. This population policy, he said, would be designed to
fit Hong Kong's long-term social and economic development, complement
family requirements and address the interests of different sectors of
A Task Force on Population Policy, chaired by the
Chief Secretary for Administration, was subsequently established to oversee
the development of the proposed population policy. Its immediate task
was to identify the major challenges to Hong Kong arising from its demographic
trends and characteristics, setting the objectives of a population policy
and recommending a set of policy initiatives that the Administration could
explore in the short and medium term. The Task Force published its Report
on February 26, 2003.
The Task Force stated that the key objective of a
population policy must be to secure and nurture a population that would
sustain Hong Kong's development as a knowledge-based economy and a world-class
In this context, Hong Kong should also aim to redress
population ageing, foster the concept of active and healthy ageing, promote
social integration of new arrivals, and ensure the long-term sustainability
of economic growth. The attainment of these goals would lead to a steady
improvement in the overall standard of living.
The Task Force advocated moving away from the proposition
of achieving a simple optimum population both in terms of size and of
composition. Rather, it would be more useful to ensure that sufficient
flexibility was built into future policy formulation and implementation
processes for Hong Kong to respond quickly to changing demographic conditions
and market situations.
In 2001 the total fertility rate1 in Hong Kong reached
an extremely low level of 927 children per 1 000 women, well below the
replacement level of 2 100 children per 1 000 women. At the same time,
life expectancy at birth was projected to reach 82 years for men and 88
years for women in 2031, one of the longest in the world.
The continued ageing of the population was expected
to result in a quarter of the population to be aged 65 or above by 2031.
More significantly, the size of the workforce would shrink as the prime
working age population declined.
The Report says. "One serious economic problem
caused by an accelerated increase in the number of elderly people in the
population is social security payments. More than 600 000
persons aged 60 or above receive financial assistance through either the
Comprehensive Social Security Assistance or the Old Age Allowance. Both
schemes are funded entirely from General Revenue and non-contributory.
Steep increases in health care expenditure form another serious economic
problem caused by an ageing population.
"As society spends more resources on caring
for its elderly population, fewer resources can be devoted to productive
investment or to the younger members of society. The result will be a
prolonged period of slower economic growth, frustrated expectations and
declining competitiveness against other economies with younger populations."
The growth of Hong Kong's population relied, apart
from births, much on immigration, the bulk of which was admitted through
the One Way Permit Scheme. From 1997 to 2001, more than 272 000 new arrivals
from the Mainland were admitted under the scheme, equivalent to some 93
per cent of the population growth2. This compared with 266 000 births,
equivalent to some 91 per cent of the population growth, during the same
period. Between 1983 and 2002, over 720 000 Mainland new arrivals were
admitted under the scheme, equivalent to about 11 per cent of the 6.72
million population in 2001.
The Task Force's recommendations concerned the continuation,
enhancement or review of policies in several areas, such as: the One Way
Permit Scheme, Training and Other Needs of New Arrivals, Education and
Manpower Policy, Admission of Mainland Professionals and Talent, Investment
Immigrants, Policies Impacting on Childbirth, Elderly Policy, the Growing
Transient Population: Foreign Domestic Helpers, Eligibility for Public
Benefits, and Portability of Benefits.
In addition, the Task Force recommended that resources
be dedicated in the Administration to take forward the population policy
and review annually the implementation of relevant decisions and programmes,
with a view to publishing a report every two to three years.
(The Report of the Task Force on Population Policy
is available on the Internet, at http://www.gov.hk/info/population)
The total fertility rate refers to the average number
of children that would be born alive to 1 000 women during their
lifetime if they were to pass through their childbearing ages of
15-49 experiencing the age specific fertility rates prevailing in
a given year.
The population growth (292 400) equals births (266
000) and inflow of One Way Permit holders (272 100) minus deaths
(164 100) and outflow of residents (81 600).