Hong Kong men do disappearing act

Published in the South China Morning Post, Most Read

Adobe_PDF_file_iconDisappearing act, 22 July, 2016


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Hong Kong woman in possession of a good fortuneDisappearing act, 22 July, 2016 does not need a man. Apologies to Jane Austen, but why should she, when has everything?

Many young professional women in Hong Kong have a great education, a great job, a great car, and great friends – a gentleman is surplus to requirements? This might result from the fact that our city has a most unusual population pyramid (see the U.N. website: www.populationpyramid.net). A population pyramid shows the number of people within a country or region by age and sex.

The world of 7.4 billion people is still dominated by the young and growing developing world with a pyramid that looks like a space rocket with a fat bottom, a thinning upper section and a sharp narrowing as death still takes too many too young. There is a slight predominance of males up to the age of 50 but the stronger of the species then starts to dominate as the men fade away.

The mature and aging developed markets look quite different. The U.S. has a population distribution is pretty evenly distributed at all ages to until it begins to shrink from the age of 55 but with a long peak representing longevity. The UK looks podgy with bumps signifying post World War II baby boomers and 1960’s immigration. Germany looks like a body builder with wide 50-year old shoulders and the steep declines of birthrate of an industrial economy, while Japan, one of the oldest demographics, shows births reflecting the World War II recovery and the boom times of the 1970’s. The imbalance caused by the loss of young men in battle is dying out.

China has a confused pyramid with birth surges at 25, 45 and 60 years of age, reflecting periods of historical conflict and birth irregularities caused by the one child policy. The period of the one-child policy neatly corresponds with boys comfortably outnumbering girls. China’s birth rate was genuinely out of control from the end of the War with growth peaking in 1970 but the measures will make China’s demographics appear like Japan or Germany by 2047.

Yet it is Hong Kong that has one of the most interesting population pyramids. Between the ages of 25 and 59, we have a significant dearth of men – it looks like we have been ravaged by war or a ritual sacrifice of the first-born son, in a way like no other territory. There are nearly 1% more women than men between 30 to 35, and between 35 and 60, there are 5% more females than males. The rest of the pyramid is quite even.

Yet we have had relatively few shocks to our booming economic growth in the last fifty years, no great changes to our prosperity, or importance on the world stage, no dramatic adjustment of government policy. Before 1992 there was no significant gap in our menfolk but then the 25 year age group starts to erode, and by 1995 men in their 30’s are disappearing. By the famous 1997 date, the differential has stretched from 25 to 40 years and at the Millennium the gap is 25 to 50.

All of those “astronauts” who left Hong Kong for a new life in, the Americas, Australia or Europe left families behind because of worries about 1997 and just never came back. Immigration of female maids has made a small difference but form less than 2% of the population across all working ages. In the last ten years, the new generation, below 25, is back to a small majority of males.

But has it really made any difference? The implication is women that have successfully filled the gap in the workforce, especially at professional levels – and they have been very successful. The impact on families and relationships let alone the low birthrate is incalculable.

Yet the disparity will continue to exist for decades. Women reaching retirement age in ten years will significantly outnumber men and this could result in a very inexperienced workforce. As we grow older, the big proportion of the retired demographics will be women There will be a lot more need for elderly care for females. Looking on the bright side however, I’m happy to say that by 2047, when I am 90, there will be a lot of spare women my age.

Richard Harris is Chief Executive of Port Shelter Investment Management. www.portshelter.com

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