Hong Kong 2003
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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 characteristics.

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 the community.

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 city.

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).

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