Hong Kong’s Family Trends and Their Policy Implications



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Professor Lee Ming-kwan


Associate Head, Department of Applied Social Sciences

Hong Kong Polytechnic University



Hong Kong’s Family Trends and

Their Policy Implications


A. FAMILY TRENDS


1. Resilient familism
2. The marriage institution in decline
3. The proliferation of aberrant forms of family
4. Towards more gender equality in the family

1. Resilient familism


(a) Increasing numerical dominance of the ‘nuclear family’;
(b) Prevalence of traditional family values and norms;
(c) Active mutual aid networks among kin and relatives

(a) ‘Nuclear family’ type of households remain the dominant type of household composition




One unextended nuclear family, in %

1981

54.4

1996


63.6

Decline in household size




Average household size

1986

3.7

1996


3.3

(b) People still hold fast to some traditional family values and norms


% of respondents endorsing traditional family values and norms (agreeing)

1990

2000

Newly married couples living away from their parents


62.1

46.6

Siblings should continue to give help to one another even after they have their own families




76.7

86.1

(c) Mutual aid networks among kin and relatives still active


Social Relations Rendering and Receiving Assistance in the Past Six Months, 1990, in % :





Rendering Assistance to Parents

Rendering Assistance to Siblings

Receiving Assistance from Parents

Receiving Assistance from Siblings

Assistance Among Relatives

Any form of help


76.1

72.8

66.5

63.2

49.2

Expensive gifts

37.0

23.9

27.3

21.0

12.6

  1. Multi-laternal flows both inter-generational and among kin of the same generation;

2. multi-functional types of assistance


Persons from whom one sought help, in %











Nuclear family members

Kin & Relatives

Friends, Workmates, Neighbours

Market & Social Service

No idea,

No answer, Don’t Know



When there was someone sick in the family

1990

71.2

21.8

1.1

2.6

4.7

2000

44.8

37.5

3.1

5.3

9.3

When the family was troubled by financial problems

1990

55.2

25.5

10.7

0.0

8.1

2000

38.3

35.4

12.5

5.1

8.7

When baby-sitting was needed

1990

42.7

40.5

5.8

1.7

9.3

2000

26.4

44.8

5.2

12.2

11.3

When there were problems in one’s work

1990

56.6

6.8

26.8

1.5

8.3

2000

42.4

8.6

31.9

2.6

14.6

When there were marital or family problems

1990

59.5

14.2

13.0

1.4

12.1

2000

37.0

19.7

26.2

5.8

11.3

When one was considering buying expensive goods or making important investment


1990

58.3

16.3

10.1

2.6

12.7

2000

54.6

18.5

4.9

5.8

16.2

When one was upset and needed some to talk to

1990

50.1

4.7

35.3

1.4

8.6

2000

28.4

8.6

53.2

1.1

8.6

When one needed advice or information on certain matters


1990

27.5

8.2

45.5

4.6

14.7

2000

13.9

8.2

57.6

5.5

14.9

Compared with 1990, in 2000 :


1. Families are less ensconced within nuclear families, less inward-oriented, and less dependent on resources within nuclear families;
2. Families are more prepared to turn to kin and relatives to seek help from them;
3. They are also more ready to turn to social networks beyond kin and relatives to seek their help;
4. Also, they are more ready to reach out beyond their social networks to seek help from social services and the market.

  • The ‘modified extended family’ is apparently still very much a reality;




  • There could be disjunctures between beliefs in traditional family values and the practice of these values.




  • Family policies should aim at ‘modified extended families’ and find ways to support them.

2. The Marriage Institution in Decline
(a) Postponement of marriage;
(b) More families with fewer children or no children at all;
(c) More marriages break down;
(d) Lack of faith in marriage;
(e) Pro-children attitude in decline;
(f) More tolerant attitude towards divorce;
(g) Rather tolerant attitudes towards cohabitation;
(h) More tolerant attitudes towards outside-marriage activities

(a) Postponement of Marriage


(a)-1 Proportion of Never Married (%)





1986

1991

1996

Male









45 – 49


2.4

3.7

5.9

(a)-2 Singulate Mean Age at Marriage







Male

Female

1986

29.7

27.1

1996


31.2

29.1

(b) More families with fewer children or without children







No. of children, in %




Households with 2 or more children

Households without children under 15

1986

27

54

1991

22

58

1996

19

61

(c) More marriages break down







Divorce petitions filed

Divorce decrees

Crude divorce rate

(per 1,000 population)

General divorce rate (per 1,000 population aged 15 +)

1972

532

354

0.09

0.13

1980

2421

2087

0.42

0.56

1999


12732

13408

2.00

2.42

(d) Lack of faith in marriage


% agreeing :





Hong Kong

Beijing

Britain

Irish Republic

USA

West Germany

Married people are generally happier than unmarried people

38

49

33

46

51

38

(e) Pro-children attitudes in decline


% agreeing :



Marriage without children is not fully complete

60.2

Having children interferes too much with the freedom of parents

58.4

The purpose of marriage is to have children



16.6

(f) Attitudes towards divorce (%)







Disagree

It Depends

Agree

No idea /

No Answer

The government should make it more difficult to divorce

37.5

14.0

30.6

18.0

Married people with children should not divorce

37.2

27.9

27.7

7.2

It is all right to marry a divorced person with children

27.3

16.3

44.5

11.9

(g) Attitude towards cohabitation


Advice would give to a young woman : Hong Kong and other countries (%)





Hong Kong

Beijing

Britain

Irish Republic

USA

Germany

Live alone without a steady partner

-

-

4

3

9

5

Marry without living together first



54

76

37

59

46

19

(h) More tolerant attitudes towards outside-marriage activities




% disapproving :

1988

1995

Cohabitation

58.2




Men




38.3

Women




47.3

Men’s extra-marital relations



85.1




Sexual




74.2

Female





80.6



  • Signs are clear that the marriage institution is in decline.

3. Proliferation of Aberrant Forms of Family


(a) more childless families
(b) more split families
* “astronaut families” resulting from emigration

* “split families” resulting from cross-border marriages and sex forays


(c) more single-parent families
(d) more elderly people living alone
(e) cohabitation

(a) Childless families







Households without Children Under 15, in %

1986

54

1996


61

(b) Split families


(b)-1 “Astronaut families” resulting from the strategic placements of male bread-winners in Hong Kong and wives and children in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other destinations of emigration.
(b)-2 “Split families” resulting from cross-border marriages and sex forays
b2.1 According to one study, between 1989 and 1998, as many as 195,622 Hong Kong residents went back to the Mainland to get married.
b2.2 According to enquires conducted via the General Household Survey in 1999 :
As many as 286,300 children were born to Hong Kong residents within registered marriage.
As many as 505,000 children were born to Hong Kong residents outside registered marriage.
As many as 209,400 Hong Kong residents have Mainland children born within registered marriage.

Among 83,700 Hong Kong residents who had Mainland children born within registered marriage, 31,000 had spouses still living in the Mainland


61,000 Hong Kong residents who did not have Mainland children born within registered marriage had spouses still living in the Mainland.
The prolonged separation of family members and their subsequent reunion is stressful to families involved. Giving these “split families” the support they need to tide them over stressful moments should clearly be an objective of family policy.
(c) Single-parent families
Number of single parents :
-5.5%

1986 36,541


+22.5%

1991 34,538


1996 42,309








Single Mothers

Single Fathers







1991

1996

1991

1996

No. of Single parents

(No.)

23059

30402

11479

11907







(+32%)

(+3.7%)


















Divorced / Separated



(No.)

11207

(+72%)

19275

7484

9156



(%)

48.6

63.4

65.2

76.9



















Non working



(%)

35.9

40.0

13.5

16.4

* In 1996 :


72% of the single parents were single mothers.
63% of the single mothers and 77% of the single fathers were divorced / separated.
Between 1991 and 1996, single mothers who were divorced / separated increased by 72%.
Single parents were getting younger.
Single parents were more well educated.
There were more single parents not working.



  • Not much is known about how single parents and their children live their lives. For example, we do not know whether they live with their extended kin and whether and how they draw on support from kinship networks.




  • Single parents who are earning low incomes, who are non-working, and who have few connections to social networks (e.g. new immigrants from the Mainland) are likely to be having many problems and difficulties.

(d) More elderly persons aged 60 and over living alone










% of Increase

1981

59,534




1996


91,967

+15.4%

In 1999, among elderly persons aged 60 and over living alone, 80% were ever married and 20% never married.



Of those who were ever married and who had children living in Hong Kong, the main reason for not living with children was that “children moved out after marriage” (63%) and that “homes were too crowded” (17%).
Of all elderly persons aged 60 and over living alone, 27%regularly received cash income ($2,000) from children, 39% received Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) (around $3,100).
Of all elderly persons aged 60 and over living alone, 40% said they had worries. The top two worries were : “not being taken care of in case of serious illness” and “not having enough money to spend”.
(e) Cohabitation
We do not know how extensive this is. The public generally approves cohabitation leading to marriage. It does not approve cohabitation per se. Cohabitation is very probably, therefore, a transitional arrangement, a station on the road to marriage.
4. Towards More Gender Equality in the Family
(a) Attitudes towards gender roles in the family on the whole “traditional”;
(b) Distribution of household labour generally follows the traditional gender-based pattern;
(c) Most decisions have been jointly made by husbands and wives together;
(d) Dual-earner families are more egalitarian than families with just husbands working.

(a) Attitudes towards gender roles in the family still generally traditional


Attitudes towards women working (%) :





Disagree

It Depends

Agree

Don’t Know / No Answer

The family suffers when the woman has a full-time job

11.9

14.0

70.1

4.1

A woman will be happier if she does not go out to work



33.7

22.7

39.5

4.1


Working women are less traditional in their attitudes than women who do not work.
Young women are less traditional than older women.
(b) Distribution of household labour
It generally follows the traditional, gender-based pattern : most chores and duties are still primarily wives’ responsibilities.
In families in which husbands work and wives stay home, most household chores and duties gravitate to the wives.
When both husbands and wives work, wives have to do housework all the same. But they tend to do less. Also, husbands are more likely to become involved in house-work.

(c) Decision-making


Most decisions have been jointly made by husbands and wives together.
Dual-earner families are significantly more egalitarian than families with just husbands working.


  • As more women work, which is the trend, it is likely that families will be more and more gender-equal.

B. POLICY IMPLICATIONS


These trends and changes call for :
1. policies which admit the continuing presence, and draw upon the cultural and social resources of Chinese familism;
2. policies which recognize the existence of modified extended families and their functions, and which aim to strengthen these families and lend them strong support;
3. policies which recognize the growing diversity of family forms, are sensitive to variations in, and respond to, their problems and needs;
4. policies which recognize and anticipate the decline of the marriage institution and its consequences;
5. policies which recognize existing gender inequalities and that promote greater equality between men and women in the family.

(WORD)1405_NOT

DM/Nancy





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