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Hong Kong Is Dying

• November 20, 2013 • 3:50 PM

A view from Victoria Peak. (PHOTO: CHENSIYUAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The quality of demographics carries greater weight than the quantity, and the Pearl of the Orient, while dense, is aging rapidly.

Hong Kong is urban density. Land is dear. The rent is too damn high. An exodus of real estate refugees:

Chen Xiaoyi, an immigration specialist who works for a Canadian company, said that there has been a “massive number of requests” recently from people looking for information about moving out of Hong Kong. …

… Chen said that while, in the past, people moved because their real-estate was losing value, this round of departures had to do with soaring property prices. In short, some people were selling now while prices were still high, Chen said. More than 70% of Chen’s clients said they had properties they wanted to sell.

If median housing prices are divided by media annual household income, Hong Kong has the least affordable homes among 300 cities around the world, the U.S. consultancy Demographia says.

Emphasis added. Now is a good time sell your home in Hong Kong. Why? The city is dying:

As is the case in many places around the world, the Hong Kong government has sounded alarm bells about the city’s serious problem of a rapidly aging population, urgently calling for a strategic population policy to face the crisis. The proposed solutions would attempt to increase the birth rate and promote immigration using financial and other incentives. …

… The committee charged with tackling the population issue spelled out a dire situation. The city’s high life expectancy — currently third highest in the world, behind Japan and Switzerland, according to U.N. statistics — combined with a low birth rate will mean that by 2041, of every 1,000 people living here, 712 will be elderly.

The city is bursting at the seams with people. It’s also sporting a rapidly aging workforce. Take a gander at some of the sentences between the above ellipses:

In the tightly packed city, a squeeze on resources in recent years — ranging from housing to school places — and a frustratingly crowded living environment have led to a growing sense of embitterment over an influx of tourists and immigrants, namely those from mainland China, whose citizens have increasingly been permitted to enter the semiautonomous region of Hong Kong over the past decade.

Hong Kong is booming. Yet the government stresses an urgent need for more babies and immigrants. What gives? It’s the birth rate, stupid.

The population can go up, up, and up. Hong Kong is still dying. The quality of demographics carries greater weight than the quantity. Ergo, shrinking Pittsburgh is thriving:

Metropolitan areas in the Fourth Federal Reserve District also saw dramatic changes in their educational attainment rates near their central business districts. In 1980, the central business districts of Cincinnati, Columbus, and Pittsburgh all had educational attainment rates relatively close to their metropolitan average, so that the relative BA attainment ratio (BA rate within 5 miles/BA rate in metro) was close to one. Over the next 30 years, both Cincinnati’s and Pittsburgh’s relative educational attainment rose, so that in 2010 the BA attainment rates in the urban core exceeded the BA rates for the metropolitan area (within 30 miles). Pittsburgh’s BA attainment rate in the urban core—46.7 percent—was among the top 20 in the nation. Columbus also experienced a rise in BA rates in the urban core, though the pace was somewhat more muted than in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.

In 1980, Pittsburgh ranked 81st out of 100 metros for college educational attainment. By 2010, it stood at 23rd. Over that 30-year time period, Pittsburgh’s population growth was overwhelmingly negative with a few brief exceptions. Pittsburgh bad. Pittsburgh dying.

The same perception problem vexes both Hong Kong and Pittsburgh. Population numbers are front and center. Urban policy suffers.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

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