HK administration suggests 3 children per couple
HK Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang has called on local couples to have three children, saying that this would be the best method to alleviate problems caused by an ageing society, which has only a very small population growth.
Speaking on a Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) phone-in programme, Tsang also said it was vital to boost Hong Kong's competitiveness by expanding the talent import scheme to attract educated mainlanders - especially young single males.
"Hong Kong has one of the lowest 'total fertility rates' in the world and we need to think about how to resolve the problems discouraging people from having children," said Tsang, who heads the government task force on population policy.
The total fertility rate refers to the average number of children that would be born to a woman during her lifetime. The rate was at an extremely low level of 0.941 in 2003, well below the replacement level of 2.1, according to the Census and Statistics figures.
"We need to think about how to encourage them to build families and ease their pressure in daily lives," he said.
"I think each couple needs to give birth to at least two children to reach the population replacement level. Three will be the best," Tsang said.
According to a population project released by the government last year, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over, is projected to rise markedly, from 11.7 per cent in 2003 to 27 per cent in 2033. The median age of the population will increase from 38 in 2003 to 49 in 2033.
Talent import scheme
To negate the effects of the persistent low birth rate, Tsang said the government needed to strengthen the existing talent and professional import scheme to attract more new blood into Hong Kong.
While the scheme will help improve the workforce quality in Hong Kong, Tsang also hopes the mainland young men will help increase the number of eligible bachelors in Hong Kong.
The sex ratio (or, the number of males per 1,000 females) in Hong Kong is projected to fall noticeably, from 939 in 2003 to 698 in 2033. The imbalance has been attributed to the presence of foreign domestic helpers, the immigration of Hong Kong men's mainland wives and the fact that females live longer than males.
While Hong Kong men of lower incomes have been marrying women across the border, the traditional expectation for a woman to "marry up" - to a man with better education and earning more money - has stopped women from doing the same.
Some even predicted that one in every four Hong Kong women will have difficulty finding a husband.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced in his 2005 Policy Address that the government is working on a scheme to attract talented people from the mainland and overseas to develop their careers in Hong Kong and the scheme will go into effect within the year.
"The government needs to study expanding the existing talent and professional import schemes to lure those elites, particularly the young and strong, to work in Hong Kong... We need to attract them to consolidate Hong Kong's status as an international financial hub," Tsang said.
But he said there is no need to expand the one-way permit quota, which is for family reunion purposes.
Two days ago, Executive Councillor Bernard Chan, who is also a legislator representing the insurance sector, raised concerns that Hong Kong would have a shortfall of skilled labour amid declining birth rates.
In recent years, Hong Kong's population growth has mainly been caused by the influx of mainland immigrants under the one-way permit scheme.
At present, the government allows up to 150 people to settle in Hong Kong daily with one-way permit visas. But the number of one-way permit holders has dropped from 53,000 in 2003 to 34,000 last year. The decrease is believed to be due to a weakening in interest in immigration to Hong Kong as the standard of living improves on the mainland.
When asked to comment on Tsang's suggestion of three children per couple, Financial Secretary Henry Tang said he will consider giving more tax relief to such families.
Executive Councillor Leung Chun-ying said the government needed to simplify the application procedures of talent and professional import schemes.
But Leung said it is unnecessary to offer right-of-abode and preferential tax to attract talents to come into Hong Kong.
Odalia Wong, a sociologist at Hong Kong Baptist University, said Hong Kong's total fertility rate is lower than other comparable affluent cities in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore and South Korea.
"The shrinking young generations might not be able to fill up the job vacancies in the market," said Wong.
"Society's great burden on social security payment in future could divert public resources away from some economically productive areas," Wong said.
Charles Li, an associate professor at the City University in economics and finance, said the government should make more efforts to maintain the quality of the workforce for Hong Kong to compete against other economies that are service-oriented.