What Is the Problem Of
an Ageing Population?
What is the ‘Problem’ of an
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What is the ‘Problem’ of an Ageing Population?
‘Problem’ or crowning glory?
In Hong Kong, as in other developed economies, people are living longer and longer lives. Yet, at the same time, fertility rates have fallen dramatically, leading to a decline in population. Indeed, Hong Kong leads the world in having the lowest per capita birth rate. Immigration from the Mainland has also fallen in recent years. The combination of these factors has resulted in the increase of the average age of the Hong Kong population. What impact will these factors have on society and how should public policy respond? Should ageing be framed essentially in highly negative terms as a ‘problem’? What challenges does society face and how can they be addressed? Hong Kong’s demographic trends and the issues that need to be explored are ably summarized by Paul SF Yip, Joseph Lee and CK Law in Hong Kong’s Challenge: Impact of Population Changes (April 2005) and will not be repeated here. 1 Similarly, the issue of Hong Kong’s highly discriminatory immigration policy and its possible longer-term impact in a rapidly globalizing world has already been noted by Christine Loh and Kee Foong in Hong Kong as ‘World City’: Assessing its Attractiveness to Global Talent (August 2005) and the issues brought up there will not be repeated in the section below on labour and productivity.2 Much of the discussion to date about demographic trends focuses on the fear of getting old and the consequences of an ageing society. Beyond personal concerns of the incapacities that come with old age, the policy concerns are that Hong Kong will not have a sufficient workforce for economic development, enough younger workers to support social security payments for those who are older, and difficulty in financing public healthcare for the elderly.3 Debate has been on-going for some years about attracting younger talent to live and work in Hong Kong, particularly from the Mainland, 4 and more recently, there has been loose talk by senior officials about the desirability of Hong Kong families having three children.5
This paper takes issue with how the HKSAR Government’s Task Force on Population Policy framed the debate. This paper argues that seeing ageing mainly in negative terms is short-sighted and will inhibit policy-makers from seeing longevity as a new phenomenon, with fundamental implications that must be addressed. 6 What will become a “problem” is if 1
Paul SF Yip, Joseph Lee and CK Law in Hong Kong’s Challenge: Impact of Population Changes, April 2005, http://www.civic-exchange.org/publications/2005/pop%20-%20yll.pdf. 2
Christine Loh and Kee Foong, Hong Kong as a ‘World City’: Assessing its Attractiveness to Global Talent, Civic Exchange, August 2005, http://www.civic-exchange.org/publications/2005/poplohkee.pdf 3
HKSAR Government, Report of the Task Force on Population Policy, 26 February 2003, pp. 3335. See also 12 January 2005 Policy Address, Working Together for Economic Development and Social Harmony, paragraph 66. http://www.policyaddress.gov.hk/2005/eng/p66.htm 4
The Capital Investment Entrant Scheme has attracted 291 people to Hong Kong as at December 2004 and Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals has attracted 10,241 since it started in July 2003, see Teddy Ng, “Call for bigger families,” The Standard, 22 February 2005. 5
Teddy Ng, “Call for bigger families”...
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