//vol.14-1 Youth speak
BELLA is in her late 30s. She is single and has a demanding job. Her parents are financially dependent on her and she has decided not to have children.
For many people, having children is like a luxury. I also wouldn’t want any child of mine to face the kind of super high pressure that education in Hong Kong involves. The opportunity cost involved is also a factor for me. How much would I have to give up in terms of lifestyle and other life choices?
Having children means needing more space but the cost of living is so high in Hong Kong as well. Even well-qualified professionals can barely afford to move out of their parents’ homes not to mention having a family of their own. Rent easily eats up to 50% or more of your salary, and only those lucky enough to get help from their families are able to buy a flat.
So I have decided I really don’t want children. An increasing number of women would agree. I have never been very fond of children and I think the responsibility of bringing one up would be too great, especially where education is concerned. I can’t give up my job and the future of Hong Kong is not very bright either, to be frank.
Many people in Hong Kong like me are well-educated and some are also the family breadwinner. I give a lot of money to my parents. I really care about them and we meet and chat often but I moved out of their public housing flat about 10 years ago because it was far too small although my younger brother still lives there.
In traditional Chinese culture, younger people are expected to take care of both their parents and elderly relatives. Most of us are willing even though it might sometimes feel like a burden.
I only started saving for myself when I was about 30 as a result of supporting my parents. I realized how important it is to plan for my retirement when it became clear that I wouldn’t have children to take care of me financially or physically.
In traditional Chinese culture, where family bonds are super close, young people are expected to take care of both their parents and elderly relatives. Most of us are willing even though it might sometimes feel like a burden. Some of my friends are their parents’ only child. They might need to take care of four grandparents as well, and parents-in-law if they get married.
It could be worse. In some traditional families, the women are expected to take care of all the family. In modern ones, males and females share responsibility. I think it is a lot better in Hong Kong compared to mainland China or Taiwan. Nowadays, technology can also help elderly people age well at home but there needs to be retirement support from the government so that the elderly don’t feel they are a burden.
Helpful innovations for elderly folk living at home include motion detectors that have sensors to check that usual daily life patterns stay normal, that nobody has fallen or needs help. If there was AI or a call centre for urgent consultations at the touch of a button people that would be good too. Simpler solutions too, like a subscription service for regular food and household goods deliveries are a good idea, then there would be no heavy shopping to carry and the younger generation would not worry so much and there would be less need to send elderly parents to care homes.
As I get older myself, I’d love to stay in good health. I imagine myself running 10k races when I’m 60. Why not? It’s a good reason to plan ahead. Take loads of exercise, eat healthily, have good friends. But so many close friends are planning to leave Hong Kong and I might leave too. It is really hard to say. I need to plan carefully.
Of course, my parents don’t want me to go, even though I would promise to take care of them as usual. We couldn’t meet very often but when the pandemic is over, we could visit each other from time to time and they would come and stay with me for a few months every year. It is just a matter of adjustment and arrangement. I think eventually they would understand and support me but it is a very difficult decision.
As my family’s breadwinner I expect to keep working until I retire although I want to keep my brain working. Good physical and mental health, plus a strong social support network: these are what really matter for senior citizens.
LUCA, in his 30s, shares his flat with his wife, daughter, mother-in-law and a helper. Although they would like to have another child, he thinks Hong Kong is not the best place.
I am planning to emigrate with my wife and our daughter soon. Then we will have our second child. Our parents reluctantly agree that it will be for the best. My mother-in-law will be lonely when we go but she understands the reasons and will move in with her sister.
We will need a stable income to buy a flat or a house. Children can limit your plans for moving house or emigrating and we want to choose a good location for them. It might feel different when I have a more stable home environment and sufficient cash flow but I don’t expect to have any cash savings for retirement till I am 40. Money and health will always be my top concerns.
Elderly people are a home’s treasures.They know how to live and children learn from them.
On the other hand, children have healing power. Everyone feels happier just seeing how happy they are. But there is a lot of competition and pressure here in Hong Kong, the cost of living is high and the quality of education is trending downwards.
Overseas, the possibility of a fruitful family life will give me balance. Facing common goals and issues with my spouse will feel like being a comrade-in-arms. Ideally, our older relatives will also be nearby. We don’t want them to be lonely. Elderly people are a home’s treasures, as the saying goes. They know how to live ‒ often better than we do ‒ and our children can learn from them as well as from us parents.
Steve is in his 20s and lives alone. He thinks children could bring joy into his life, but he says there are too many negative factors involved.
Today’s social and political environment means that the so-called 50 years of Hong Kong retaining its own character has ended prematurely. Most young people are planning to emigrate. If I had enough money, I would emigrate immediately too but until I can afford it, I have to stay.
I come from a single parent family and was not very happy when I was growing up. I haven’t felt family warmth since my father died. I moved out of my mum’s place in my early 20s. But I worry about population ageing and no one wanting to take care of elderly people. Most of them have very different political views from me. I care about my grandma though. She is 85. At the moment, she lives with my uncle but if that became difficult and if it were my decision, I wouldn’t ever send her to a care home. They are horrible. I couldn’t give up work to take care of her myself but I would employ a helper to look after her. What worries me most about growing old is being unable to look after myself or do what I want to do.
SUKI is single, lives with her parents and has strong views about the city’s problems. One day, she wants to have children, but she is realistic about where and when.
After the protests and all the problems that followed, many young people despaired about Hong Kong’s future. The National Security Law and the stalled development of democratic human rights and freedoms have led several foreign countries to offer “lifeboat” plans to Hong Kong people, greatly increasing their desire to leave.
I plan to move to Canada in the coming year, get married and have children there. I think that living in a foreign country will mean the next generation can grow up in a free and happy environment where competition is less fierce. My parents have a very different perspective but they fully support my decision. After they retire, even though we are not very close, I can bring them to Canada as well to enjoy their later years in a better environment. Then, I think a complete and happy family would give me a new focus in life.
It is rather difficult to have children in Hong Kong before you are 30. If I had a partner who was financially secure it might be different, but for now, I think I need work for a few more years. Even if I had a solid savings plan, I wouldn’t be able to afford moving out of my parents’ home, let alone bear the costs of raising children in Hong Kong.
Most young couples in Hong Kong work for a living. Organizing a family, with the huge costs of housing adds extra pressure so giving up jobs to take care of children full-time is not feasible. They need to hire domestic helpers instead but that adds to costs, unless grandparents look after them.
Giving up jobs to take care of children full-time is not feasible.
Furthermore, as women have become increasingly well-educated, they pay more attention to their career development. They no longer focus on family life and so are less willing to have children in a city where social support policy fails to ensure that parents can balance family and work.
My greatest worry is about close relatives growing old and becoming poor or unwell. Even though I have been saving, that’s not what I am saving for, nor is it for my own retirement. I expect to be the family breadwinner and can’t imagine stopping work. It is difficult to imagine giving up earning completely, even to look after one of my parents.
If I can emigrate successfully to Canada, I hope I will live the rest of my life there. But I want to have enough pension and a healthy body to live happily in my later years, build my own social circle and not need to rely on my children to take care of me. I worry most that Hong Kong people will leave here, one after another, that Hong Kong will merge seamlessly with mainland China and that the culture of Hong Kong will change completely.
LAM is studying for an MPhil while working full time. He lives with his mother and brother, can’t imagine being able to afford his own place for many years to come. He loves his grandmother dearly but doesn’t want children.
I think the whole world is facing this ageing problem, not just Hong Kong. Some countries like Japan have an even lower birthrate. Of course, I think we need to do something about population trends, maybe offer more incentives for people to have children. That might help those who want to have a baby but just cannot afford it.
Others, like me, don’t want children anyway. Maybe it’s the responsibility, and maybe the endless noise they make in the first few years? And then there’s the money and of course housing. I am so broke. I just started my further education and I can’t save anything. Then there’s bad education too. I would not want my children to go through what I have been through. Hong Kong is no longer suitable for people with any free will.
My biggest worry is about my relatives getting old, ill and unable to look after themselves. My 90-year-old grandmother who lives not far away is so funny and kind. I love her and would give up anything to spend more time with her. There will only be one chance and I won’t miss it. She is just so much fun and has loads of wisdom about life to share. I love chatting with her and before the pandemic, we would always go to yum-cha together. Now, my mother is working part-time and so she visits her every day and does the housework while I study.
My 90-year-old grandmother is so funny and kind. I love her and would give up anything to spend time with her. There will only be one chance.
Home is the best place for elderly people to stay, definitely not care homes. I think care homes in Hong Kong are horrible. I also hope that there will be ways for elderly people to stay in touch when we can’t be with them ourselves, maybe new technology will help.
One day, when I finish my MPhil, I hope to get a stable university job. That would please my parents. We need to find enough people to work in Hong Kong, otherwise the economy would just crash. Maybe people will come from Taiwan or Singapore. I don’t want all the immigration to be from mainland China. It needs to be well-balanced.
KWAN, a teacher in her early 30s, wants two children before she turns 35. She has a partner but currently lives alone in the New Territories and says for now, children are just a dream.
I love children, they are just so innocent and cute, aren’t they? When you chat with them and try to understand them, you can be inspired. I remind myself to stay simple and be truthful when I am with children. I imagine my own future too, with my own family and my own lovely children. Surrounded by grandkids too, one day, I hope.
I imagine my own future with my own lovely children … but for people like me raising children is so difficult.
My mum and my grandparents have all gone but my mum would have liked that too. If only I’d had more chance to be with them. I loved them and I still remember how my mum died in the hospital. I was lucky to be by her side, but some of the elderly people there died alone in their sickbeds. Now, there is just my father and he abandoned us a long time ago when I was still a kid.
For people like me raising children is so difficult. I need a full-time job, but at home I would be expected to do most of the housework and take care of children as well. Thinking of time management and money, since I live in a small public housing apartment, it makes me feel tired already.
So, as soon as I started earning, I started to plan ahead. My health would be my biggest worry as I grow older. I worry quite a lot, actually as so few of my friends have decided to have kids. I think most Hong Kong people just cannot afford to have children. I am a primary school teacher and I can tell because most of my students are from mainland China and they have cross-border parents, one in Hong Kong and the other in China. I imagine that the friends of my children would be from the mainland too. Not that it would be bad in itself, but maybe the cultural differences would affect me a bit. I don’t want our Hong Kong identity to fade away.
MARCUS is single, in his early 30s and lives with his parents. With a higher diploma in design, he has a stable job but is pessimistic about Hong Kong.
In the next five years, I want to learn more and then get ready to leave Hong Kong. I want to come back here when I am old but what worries me most about growing old is money. I have shared these plans with my parents and they understand.
I get on really well with my grandparents. If they needed me I would even give up my career in order to look after them at home. Ageing in place at home is best as long as there are good ways to keep in touch with others and no limits on visitors.
Having children can bring happiness and if I had any they might take care of me when I get old. It costs a lot of time and money to bring up children properly and it would change me. Seeing them grow up would affect me and the ways I might develop too. It would be one more distraction. I think the political and economic environment here together with the impact of the pandemic have had a big effect on attitudes to marriage among people like me and I haven’t seriously considered it myself.