The impact of industrialization on fertility in Hong Kong: a demographic, social & economic analysis

AuthorChoi, C.Y.

Chan, K. C.

TitleThe impact of industrialization on fertility in Hong Kong: a demographic, social & economic analysis
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateSeptember 1973
Keywords:Fertility, Human


Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:Having described the variables that have affected the contraceptive behaviour of the population, it is time to relate the mechanisms through which the relationship between industrialization and fertility decline was established in Hong Kong in the last two decades.

Based on the findings of this survey and other relevant statistics, it can be seen that industrialization has affected fertility in a number of ways, many of which are inter-related. For the sake of convenience and ease of exposition, they call the more direct consequences of industrialization the “Primary Variables”. These include the following. (See Diagram 8.1)

a) A rise in the female participation rateThis is largely the result of the expansion of the manufacturing and its related industries. This variable, in addition to causing changes in the “Secondary Variables”, has induced changes in variables of the same level such as urbanization and overcrowdedness as explained below.

b) Urbanization and overcrowdednessThis has long been regarded as a condition for and the consequence of economic development. Urbanization in Hong Kong has been mainly achieved through “international migration” i.e. from Mainland China. The economic stability and its sustained growth have always been the “pull” factor attracting large number of immigrants causing housing shortage and overcrowdedness. The latter has been intensified by the establishment of factories in certain resettlement estates where supply of labor is more adequate.

c) A rise in the education standard of the populationIncrease in Government’s revenue a s a result of rising income and the increase in demand of better qualified labor in the process of industrialization have been the underlying forces responsible for the expansion of education programme which have demonstrated their effects in the almost complete elimination of illiteracy in Hong Kong.

d) Eagerness for pecuniary rewardsPeople’s aspirations for higher standard of living has been a roused in the process of rising income. Increased earnings have enabled many to share some of the luxurious consumption practices which are being pursued with still greater eagerness. This eagerness has further developed into a strong desire for pecuniary rewards with the result that wealth is not only regarded as the pre-requisite for a higher standard of living but a means of security. Thus, the function of raising children as a source of security at old age has been correspondingly weakened.

As postulated in Chapter I, some of these primary variables are the consequences of as well as the conditions for industrialization and they have, so far, constituted the framework within which the forces conveniently called the “Secondary Variables” develop.

One of the secondary variables is rising age at first marriage. Rise in the education level coupled with the increasing job opportunities have imparted upon most of the adolescent girls not only the right to decide their own marriages but a sense of responsibility to support their own families. Study of those women marrying late has largely confirmed this hypothesis. Of course, rising age at marriage may have been the direct result of modernization accompanying industrialization. In reducing the proportion of women exposed to the risks of conception, in the younger age- groups, rising age at first marriage is considered to be the only secondary variable affecting fertility directly. Through changing the pattern or the timing of child-birth, women marrying late has had greater opportunity to respond to the impact of the motivational and educational campaigns of an expanding family planning programme. Despite the absence of conclusive evidence we claim that its effect has been cumulative and is not limited to the short-run.

The other two variables so far considered are the labour shortage and the development of equalitarianism. The former is certainly the consequence of the rise in the female participation rate and the latter has been fostered by the rise in the level of economic independency and education attainment especially among the female population. Equalitarianism manifests itself in changing the relationships among husbands and wives, parents and children and in-laws resulting in a greater communication flow between husband and wife, and a cultivation of mutual independency between parents and grown-up children. These resultant factors, coupled with labour scarcity have operated in such a way as to generate a negative attitude towards child bearing which is called the “Tertiary Variable”.

The attitude towards child-bearing has been affected by both the primary and the secondary variables. In the case of the former, eagerness for a higher standard of living and the prevailing poor housing standard have been competing with childbirth while the improvement in the education level has certainly helped to dispense with the traditional concepts of a large family norm. In the case of the secondary variables, labour scarcity resulting in the shortage of domestic servants and equalitarianism have either increased the cost or decreased the benefit of raising children. A change from the traditional attitude towards raising children has always been the pre-requisite for the reduction of fertility rates since it constitutes the potential demand for contraceptive or abortion services.

The practice of contraception, as referred to in the text, is the immediate variable determining Hong Kong's fertility level on the assumption that abortion has not been practiced to any significant or has remained constant in Hong Kong during the last two decades. The level of contraceptive practices, besides being dependent on the strength of the potential demand brought about by changes in the attitude towards raising children, is also determined by the supply of these services. At this point, the contribution of the family planning programme has been tremendous. Still, it would be over-simplified to say that the organized effort of the Family Planning Association has been confined to making provision for the supply of these services. Through advocating and legitimizing the use of contraception, the Association has helped to create and subsequently satisfy the effective demand. However, important though her activities have been in regulating the fertility level, her existence can only be remotely related to the process of Hong Kong’s industrialization and is more adequately described as the exogenous variable.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references
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