Family planning, fertility decline, and family size preference in Hong Kong: some general observations


Ng, Pedro Pak-tao

TitleFamily planning, fertility decline, and family size preference in Hong Kong: some general observations
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateJanuary, 1978

Birth control

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:

I have in this paper tried to portray the relevance of family planning in Hong Kong around basically the following three points:

(a) family planning in Hong Kong as an organized programme to facilitate limiting family size is only a relatively recent event;(b) fertility in Hong Kong started to decline markedly since the mid-sixties and has remained at a low level as a result of both changing social and economic conditions favouring a desire for smaller families on the one hand and the expansion of family planning activities and services on the other; and (c) on the individual level, there is now in Hong Kong a marked tendency for both the parental generation and the younger generation to prefer a small family of two to three children.


It was noted earlier in this paper that when fertility was declining in the mid-sixties, it was largely due to a true decline in fertility especially among the younger age groups. This means that the effect of further keeping fertility low would be more permanent. The birth rates of recent years seem to indicate that this indeed has been the trend.


The sixties in Hong Kong was a decade of rapid expansion in education, among other developments. The youths of that decade, and the years that followed, being direct beneficiaries of that expansion, would in all likelihood grow up to be a generation of supporters of small families. The evidence we have does suggest that this is the case. Indeed, it is not just small families that the younger generation has now widely accepted, but also relatively late marriage and child spacing. Thus, for example, the two hundred odd university students cited before showed a modal preference for males to marry a t the age of 28 and females a t 25, The first child, more than 40 per cent of them thought, should not be born until two years after marriage and the second child another two years after that. Another 22 per cent thought that the second child should come three years after the first .

It would be difficult, of course, to execute a study which follows a cohort of present-day youths until they marry and have children to see whether their future fertility behaviour is consistent with their preferences and attitude s as youths. Naturally, all kinds of intervening factors are likely to operate which result in deviations of actual behaviour from values and norms. However, judging from the fact that more younger married couples are taking to birth control before the first childbirth and that the concept of family is increaseingly gaining acceptance, it would be reasonable to suppose that the future fertility behaviour of our present-day youths in Hong Kong would be what may be expected given their current overwhelming support of the two- or three-child family.


This is not to say, however, that promoters of family planning i n Hong Kong need to be complacent. The task of educating and motivating the public must continue, although that task is in many ways benefiting from the social environment of an industrializing and modernizing Hong Kong which is, as we have seen, conducive to preferring small families. In fact , as is well known, the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong has been giving increasing emphasis on educational and motivational work in various forms and through various channels, and much of this is directed a t the younger age groups of the population. Hong Kong being such a large metropolis, however, just the work of the Family Planning Association would not be sufficient, It has been advocated, especially during the World Population Year of 1974, that much more population-related material and certain forms of family planning knowledge ought to be incorporated into the school curriculum. Although not much progress has been made along this direction, it must be stressed that socializing both men and women at an early age to the rationale for family planning in the context of Hong Kong society should take a more deliberate and systematic form, as it would be if it becomes part of one's formal education, if Hong Kong is really serious about keeping its fertility rate as low as possible in the future.


Judging from the fairly wide acceptance of contraception, the increased use of contraception for child spacing rather than for preventing an already large family from getting larger, and the emergence of a norm of two or three children as the ideal family size , it may be said that the family planning programme in Hong Kong has achieved a sizeable success. On the whole, there has been little or no significant cultural resistance to contraception although the large family ideal used to be a core value of tradition Chinese familism. Yet difficulties are still present, such as the relatively low rate of contraception acceptance among certain dialect-ethnic groups (e.g., those of Chiu Chow origin) and the fisherfolk. Preference for boys still persists to some extent, even among the better educated. Thus, for example, nearly two-thirds of the undergraduates studied in one of the cited surveys indicated that they would want a third child, hoping that it would be a boy, if the first two turn out to be girls. The same study also revealed t h a t the students' knowledge of contraceptive methods was rather inadequate. There is certainly plenty of room for more active informational, educational, and communicative work on the part of the Family Planning Association. At the same time, there is also an increasingly strong case for appealing for a more active and direct role on the part of the Hong Kong Government, in helping to promote family planning and hence to achieve the purpose of fertility control in an otherwise overly large population for what Hong Kong can accommodate.

NoteIncludes bibliographical references
Images Preview
Family planning, fertility decline, and family size preference in Hong Kong: some general observations (PDF)3.46 MB