Monday, May 30, 2005

The Population Problem, Then and Now

On our Central walk, we speculate only slightly facetiously, as to whether it is the high stress levels induced by a city with a tremendously high cost of living, tiny flats with no privacy and a hideously short expectation for returns on investment that brings about Hong Kong's abysmally low birth rate. Global condom maker Durex says that Hong Kong couples engage in intercourse less than any other territory in the world. That being known, then, it is no surprise that Hong Kong has the lowest birthrate in the world at 0.8. It is apparently even lower if one strips out all the mainland mothers that have come to Hong Kong to give birth - without them, it is a paltry 0.65, far, far below the replacement rate of 2. Given the falling interest on the mainland to immigrate to Hong Kong, it is becoming clear that the city has a major problem of an aging population. Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive designate and Roman Catholic, looks to champion the cause of a "three child" family policy to avert economic crisis.

So imagine my surprise today when reading a book written just 30 years ago by what was then a grizzled veteran journalist for the Economist and the Far Eastern Economic Review, talking about Hong Kong's population problem:

"Birth control needs more direct and active governmental enforcement - a sad word, but the essential description...population continues to bloat at more than two percent a year. About half of the Hong Kong population is under twenty years, and the number of women of childbearing age was 850,000 in 1974 and will probably be over a million in 1981. The Government has integrated thirty-two family planning associations into maternal welfare clinics, but has not yet invoked a realistic Singapore-style campaign to curtail births [they reversed their policy long ago, for the educated at least! ed.]; and, right or wrong, Roman Catholic influence in the colony's Medical and Health Services, some suggest, discourages public propaganda for the pill and other contraceptive stratagems. Chinese husbands in Hong Kong, as everywhere, thrust perseveringly to overcome any feminine bias in their chromosomes: they must have a son."

(Richard Hughes, Borrowed Time, Borrowed Place: Hong Kong and its Many Faces)

Amazing how things change. One wonders what has happened to the Chinese husbands and their 'thrusting perseverance?'

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