Hong Kong’s Challenge: Impact of Population Changes

Population projection is an important exercise for all policy-makers because it is based
on the periodic projections and adjustments that public infrastructure and public
services are planned. Resources have to be set aside or found in order to ensure such
needs are going to be met in the future. In other words, population projections
determine longer-term policy planning.

Hong Kong has a history of over-estimating population. In looking at the recent past, in
1961, the government projected that by 1981, the population would be 6.05 million. By
1966, that projection was revised down to 5.1 million by 1981, which was
approximately what the population was in 1981. In 1966, however, the official
projection for 2011 was 8.1 million. The population only reached 6.72 million in 2001,
and 6.8 million in 2003. On 30 June last year, the official projection was finally revised
down from an estimate of 8.1 million by 2011 to 7.5 million by 2010. These were very
large differences. Statisticians believe this figure of 7.5 million by 2010 may still be too
high.

The consequence of over-estimation may well have been that Hong Kong built more
than it needed ahead of real demand for physical hardware and thus diverting
resources into certain types of projects and away from other types of projects. In
looking at population and policy-making in the future, we strongly urged policy-makers
to pay more attention to population estimates. The government must also be more
explicit about its projected assumptions on needs.

Civic Exchange’s population study project includes exploration of the general
demographic trends, overall policy impacts, related public health impacts, transport
needs, pension needs, as well as a comparison with other cities. Our Alternative Policy
Address published in December 2004 reflected our thinking on the overall policy impact;
and this paper presents the general demographic trends. We are grateful to the authors
for the efforts they put into this project and to the Census and Statistics Department for
its assistance in providing data. We are also grateful to Simon Ng for managing the
population project as a whole, Carine Lai for layout, and Andrea Li for editing. This
project is funded by the Fan Family Charitable Trust. Without this support we could not
have embarked on this important area of research. We wish to thank Mr. Henry Fan
and Ms. Lily Fan for their support of our work.