Poor Social Mobility of Young People in Hong Kong


In the past, Hong Kong was well-known as a city that was full of opportunities, people believed they can move up the social ladder by their own efforts. The spirit of Lion Rock has always been many Hong Kong people’s core value, but it is out-of-date now. Chung stated that according to the Chinese University survey, only 14.6% of people felt their opportunities had improved over the past ten years, while 54.6% of people said there were not enough opportunities for them to move up the social ladder and change their life. Respondents who are under 31 years old with tertiary level education are the most pessimistic ones, they felt hopeless about their prospects of upward social mobility.

Legislative Council Secretariat indicated that social mobility is a complicated concept and has many features, but it is usually measured in terms of changes in education, earnings, and occupation. In light of that, I would like to discuss about the reasons why young people are getting more difficult to climb up the social ladder in Hong Kong nowadays in terms of educational mobility, earnings mobility, and occupational mobility, and some possible ways to improve the social mobility of young people in Hong Kong.

Educational mobility

Educational mobility describes the movement of an individual from one level of education to another within one's lifetime. “Win at the starting line” This is a presumption held by many Hong Kong parents. They believe that their children have to prepare well since they are children in order to enhance their competitiveness, so they could be successful in this competitive city. They help their children to apply tutorial or interest classes after school such as different kinds of languages, music instruments, and sports. It sounds like it is overwhelming and not a proper way to treat a child who is supposed to be happy and carefree. But no one could deny that it is an efficient method to raise children. Of course, not every family could do this to their children, only the family which have enough funds to spend on their children. Students who have more resources are more likely to explore and find their interests, then turn it into their specialties. They would get a better resume and more appreciation from schools which have better education. In contrast, the students who are relatively poor couldn’t get enough resources to explore themselves. It is just like an endless loop. The richer the students, the better the education they get. When they grow up and become someone’s parents, it is most likely that they would use the same way to raise their children. Therefore, the youngsters who are at a lower level in the social ladder would always have lower competitiveness. It is one of the reasons why Hong Kong has poor social mobility. To improve this situation, the Hong Kong government could consider vocational education.

Wong pointed out that the Hong Kong government should take German and Swiss as references. The vocational training program in these countries which integrate career and academic options for students could efficiently improve social mobility in Hong Kong. They proved that qualifications aren’t the only ticket to career and social advancement. In Hong Kong, vocational education is usually for secondary 6 students who are failed to go to college, such as IVE and VTC. In fact, in many countries, it is an option for younger students. Hoeckel et al. stated that secondary schools in Australia offer school-based apprenticeships and traineeships for students in years 10, 11, and 12, which means all high school students under the Hong Kong education system. The relatively poor students could have the opportunities to explore their interests before they finish secondary school. Even they don’t have enough resources, they could do some self-enhancement by gaining practical knowledge and hands-on practice in the vocational education program. They could have a better plan on their life afterward and easier to be successful.

Occupational mobility

Occupational mobility describes the movement of an individual from one job to another within one's lifetime. “All occupational are considered of equal value” that’s what our teacher always told us. Sadly, people usually don’t consider them as equal value, especially in Hong Kong. Being a professional such as a doctor, lawyer or engineer makes people feel confident about themselves. The most obvious example is the top scorers of DSE. It was not surprising that almost every top scorer of DSE chose to get into the department of medicine or faculty of law after the release of results. It didn’t mean being a doctor or a lawyer was their dream, mostly it is just because they are high-paid jobs and usually at the high places of the social ladder. Clearly, occupation is a key indicator of a person's socioeconomic status and another measure for social mobility. Educational mobility and occupational mobility are closely linked. Students who had more resources in high school have a higher opportunity to get a good result in DSE and get into the department they want. In contrast, the students who didn’t get many resources have a lower opportunity to get a good result, some of them couldn’t get in college and enter the workforce and start working once they graduate from high school. To improve occupational mobility, employee training should be promoted.

Employee training is a program that helps people learn specific knowledge or skills to improve their work performance in their current workplace. Although it couldn’t bring immediate impacts, it efficiently improves employees’ future performance. It is impossible that people could be a doctor or a lawyer without getting into college and studying. So, the only improvement we could do is some self-enhancement. We could focus on our current job and do our best to get better performance, in order to get a promotion. The Hong Kong government should spend more money on employee training programs, to help them climb up a high position in their career.

Earnings mobility

Earnings mobility describes the movement of an individual from one income group to another within one's lifetime. In Hong Kong, even you are highly educated, your salary will never as high as you expected. Take me as an example, as a Journalism student, I might be a journalist in the future. Cheung stated that according to a Hong Kong Journalists Association survey in 2016, 32% of the 400 journalists earned $10,000 to $15,000 per month, while 22% of them had earned between $15,000 to $20,000. Only 16% earned over $30,000 a month. It shows that a career which requires high education doesn’t equal to high salary in Hong Kong, not to mention jobs which don’t require many qualifications. The earnings inequality is growing rapidly in Hong Kong. Wiemers & Carr stated that nowadays people are more “stuck in place” in the earnings distribution throughout their careers, they prefer staying in the comfort zone rather than fighting for a higher salary because they are afraid it might cause them to lose their jobs. The worst part is the price index in Hong Kong is increasing every year. Legislative Council Secretariat has reported that, because of the mild earnings growth in recent years, young people are more difficult to own a private residential flat. The average flat price is surged by 188% during 2006‐2013. People especially youngsters who just get out of school and step in society, are unable to afford the crazy price index in Hong Kong. It shows that earnings mobility has to be improved in order to give youngsters the opportunities to climb up the social ladder. In light of that, setting up a higher minimum wage could be useful.

The minimum wage now in Hong Kong is $37.5 per hour. Marcos has reported that a living wage in Hong Kong has to be set at $54.7 per hour, in order to follow the rapid growth of the price index. The current minimum wage in Hong Kong still hasn’t reached this aspirational target. The Hong Kong government should consider setting up a higher minimum wage, in order to increase people’s incomes, so they could afford to buy more things and have more resources on self-enhancement. It could increase the opportunities of young people to move from one income group to another and change their social status.


In brief, poor educational mobility, earnings mobility, and occupational mobility increase the difficulty of young people climbing up the social ladder. In fact, all of these show one phenomenon in Hong Kong—the great disparity between the rich and the poor. The income inequality in Hong Kong is one of the most serious among the world. Yiu & McIntyre stated that the wealthiest 10 percent of families earn nearly 44 times more than the poorest 10 percent who make an average of $2,560 per month, according to a household income report in 2016.

It is interesting to see some young people compare living in Hong Kong to playing Monopoly. The youngsters are the players who join in the middle of the game. The properties were all occupied by the last generations who already playing at the very start. The youngsters could collect $200 from the bank when they pass the “Go” space, just like they could get their salary after they go to work. But they could never do better than the old players. Sometimes they even need to pay other players taxes when they land on their properties, just like they have to spend money on some big business because they almost own every shop in Hong Kong.

The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This situation makes youngsters feel hopeless, some of them even decide to move to other countries where have less life pressure. The government has to do something before Hong Kong completely loses this generation. The housing issue should be the first thing to be improved in order to minimize the wealth gap. Yiu & McIntyre stated that nearly 30% of families, or around two million people, live in subsidized public housing. The waiting time for these units is now over 5.6 years. Many poor can only afford to live in subdivided flats or “cage home”. The government should put effort in developing affordable housing programs. At least let the youngsters be able to own private space in Hong Kong. Step by step, I really hope young people in Hong Kong could have an opportunity to climb up the social ladder and develop a successful life.


  1. Chung, N. K. (2013, Mar 5). Social mobility in Hong Kong 'getting harder', poll says. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1177243/social-mobility-hong-kong-getting-harder-poll-says
  2. Legislative Council Secretariat (2015). Social mobility in Hong Kong. https://www.legco.gov.hk/research-publications/english/1415rb02-social-mobility-in-hong-kong-20150112-e.pdf
  3. Wong, C.W. (2018). Fixing social ladder for Hong Kong youth. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/articles/215/173/218/1535340475395.html
  4. Hoeckel, K., Field, S.& Justesen, T. R. (2008). Learning for jobs. http://www.oecd.org/education/skills-beyond-school/41631383.pdf
  5. Chung, K. (2018, Jun 17) High pressure, long hours and low pay: Why young. journalists in Hong Kong are ditching the media industry. Hong Kong Free Press. https://hongkongfp.com/2018/06/17/high-pressure-long-hours-low-pay-young-journalists-hong-kong-ditching-media-industry/
  6. Wiemers, E. & Carr, M. (2020). Earnings instability and mobility over our working. lives: Improving short- and long-term economic well-being for U.S. workers. https://equitablegrowth.org/earnings-instability-and-mobility-over-our-working-lives-improving-short-and-long-term-economic-well-being-for-u-s-workers/
  7. Marcos, J. (2020). Minimum wage in HK 2020: Your guide here. https://transferwise.com/hk/blog/minimum-wage-in-hong-kong
  8. Yiu, P.& McIntyre, S. (2017). Hong Kong wealth gap at its widest in decades as handover anniversary nears. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-anniversary-wealth-gap-idUSKBN19I1E2
07 July 2022
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