Hong Kong men hunt wives in China

Spouse-hunting Hong Kong men are increasingly looking to China for their dream wives. More than a third of the 50,300 Hong Kong men, who tied the knot last year, chose women from China, the Census and Statistics department in Hong Kong reported.

This means that 18,000 Chinese girls crossed over to the bustling city to settle down with their Hong Kong husbands in 2006. In 1996, a year before the former British colony was annexed by China, only 2,215 Hong Kong men married Chinese women, according to the census and statistics department of Hong Kong special administrative region government.

Very few Hong Kong women are attracted to men in China. Only 3,400 women from the city agreed to marry men from China last year. Hong Kong men are lot more eager to strike relationships between the border. An additional 10,000 Hong Kong men applied last year for certificates proving they are not currently married, which is a requirement for finding a wife in China.

The growing trend of cross-border marriage between Hong Kong men and Chinese women is the result of Hong Kong women becoming better educated and financially independent, making it harder for men in lower income brackets to find local spouses, media reports said.

Women in expensive Hong Kong are generally known to ignore men with low educational attainments and low income and prefer to remain unmarried. Women who prefer to remain unmarried have one interesting feature, that is, most of them are well educated with sufficient independent income.

Also, fashion-conscious Chinese women are also attracted to Hong Kong which is an international cosmopolitan city. China annexed Hong Kong from July 1, 1997.

Fung Hing-wang, the commissioner for census and statistics, is also worried about the trend of ageing population with low number of new births. Low fertility rate, low rate of marriages and higher levels of longevity are contributing to the creation of a greying population, he said. If the current factors remain unchanged, we project there will be a natural decrease in the population after 2015," Fung said.

Singletons threat to growth

More Hong Kong men and women remain unmarried, further threatening the population's natural growth, according to official figures released Thursday.

The Census and Statistics Department said a by-census taken last July and August found the number of never- married males aged 15 and above rose to 34.3 percent in 2006, up from 33.9 percent in 2001. The figure recorded in 1996 was 34.2 percent.

The figure was even more alarming for women, rising from 28.9 percent in 1996 to 30.1 percent in 2001 and 30.7 percent in 2006. Many of the unmarried women had schooling to higher education level.

The data also showed Hong Kong men on average got married with women who were three years younger. The were about 6,900,000 people in the territory at the end of last year, representing a rise of 0.9 percent on the previous year. However, despite the addition of 62,900 residents, the population was also getting older, with the median age at 39 in 2006 compared with 34 in 1996.

Commissioner for Census and Statistics Fung Hing-wang attributed the aging trend to the continuing low fertility rate and the fact more people were now living longer. Fung described the present time as "a golden era" for a population born during the baby boom of the 1950s and 60s.

He said until 2016, the number of deaths is expected to balance out the number of births of about 60,000 annually. After that, he said, it is projected the percentage of people aged 65 and over will increase at 2 percent every four to five years. By the 2030s, the situation will become very serious with more than a quarter of population (26 to 27 percent) being aged 65 or above.

"If the current factors remain unchanged, we project there will be a natural decrease in the population after 2015/16," Fung said. However, he said, the situation could change should younger people choose to migrate to Hong Kong.

Fung said the birth rate in Hong Kong remained one of the lowest in the word. The fertility rate fell from 1.4 percent in 1988 to 0.97 percent in 2006. The low birth rate had earlier provoked Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to call on parents to have at least three children.

Data released Thursday also showed a switch from a male-dominant society to a female-dominated city with 1,000 women to every 911 men last year compared with 1,037 men per 1,000 women in 1996.

Of the 50,300 marriages registered last year, 28,000 men got married to women in China compared with 24,000 who did so in 1996. In 1996, 1,821 Hong Kong women got married to Chinese men. The figure rose to 6,500 in 2006.

Fung said while the number of unmarried men remained fairly steady, the number of unmarried women increased since more Hong Kong men were choosing Chinese brides.

Because of the increasing number of Hong Kong-China marriages, the census department is now conducting a study to determine how many of the babies born to Chinese wives eventually return to Hong Kong after spending their early years in China.

The study is expected to be completed by the middle of this year and the figures will passed to the respective government bureaus for further study. Data gathered during the census also reflected changes in the average household size, dropping from 3.3 in 1996 to three last year.

There was also a big increase of one- person households from about 16,000 in 1996 to about 41,000 last year, the majority of whom were divorced or separated adults aged from 30 to 59.

Last year 26,000 Chinese mothers gave birth in Hong Kong. Of these, only 10,000 were born to Chinese mothers and Hong Kong fathers. The parents of the other 16,000 babies were not Hong Kong residents.

The median monthly income of the working population was HK$10,000 in 2006, an increase of 5 percent over the past 10 years.

Family time losing out to work

A member of the government's Council for Sustainable Development's population subcommittee has called on the government and employers to place more emphasis on family values. Paul Yip Siu-fai said Friday he was alarmed to read a Census and Statistics Department report which suggested more women were preferring to remain unmarried as they had no time to have children, while more Hong Kong men were going to China to find wives.

"The environment in Hong Kong is not conducive to building close family relationships," said Yip who is also a senior lecturer of the statistics and actuarial science department at Hong Kong University. "When the environment is not family friendly, some people don't see the need to have a family." Other statistical data announced Thursday showed there were now more women than men in the SAR, with a ratio of 1,000 women to every 911 men last year compared with 1,037 men for every 1,000 women in 1996.

More people were choosing to get married when they were older. However, according to results of the 2006 by-census, the number of women who have never married rose from 28.9 percent in 1996 to 30.7 percent last year. The figure for men remained fairly steady at 34.2 percent in 1996 and 34.3 percent last year. The figures also showed the percentage of women in the work force rose from 49.2 in 1996 to 52.4 in 2006. The number of men in the work force dropped from 76.6 percent in 1996 to 69.2 last year. Yip said the growing number of working women combined with a lower birth rate was unique to Hong Kong.

He said that in France, for instance, where 70 percent of the female population worked, the birth rate had also increased to 1.8 percent, compared with Hong Kong's 0.9 percent. One reason for the low birth rate, he said, was the non family-friendly atmosphere of Hong Kong's work environment, where many employees work long hours and are forced to do overtime, leaving them with little time to spend with their families.

"In Hong Kong, the professional life competes with a private life, forcing people to choose between their careers and their families," he said. "What we need is a change of employee mind-set which will allow people to strike a balance between work and the family." He also urged a change in values, saying owning a flat and a car should not be prerequisites to getting married.

Yip urged both men and women to have more realistic expectations when looking for a partner. "Women should be prepared to accept the fact that the man may have a lower educational background or earn less than they do," he said. "Conversely, men should accept the fact that the women they meet may be more intelligent than they are."

Yip also urged employers to offer flexible work hours and five-day weeks and to stop making overtime work the norm rather than the exception. Employers can also help to cultivate a more family-conducive culture in the workplace by allowing employees to bring their spouses and partners to company activities.

Yip also hoped there would be more job flexibility in Hong Kong such as half-day work to allow for more family time. "Establishing a proper family environment depends not only on the individual or the government but also the society," Yip stressed.

Hong Kong University Family Institute director Lee Wai-yung said one reason why many people chose to remain single was because of career ambitions. She said the family model was also changing and there was a growing belief that women could have children without having to get married.