The Social Mobility and Climbing the Social Ladder in Hong Kong

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For years, Hong Kong has been viewed as a city of opportunities with endless chances for young people to move up the social ladder through their own hard work and efforts. However, it seems to me that the window has been closed for a long time. Hong Kong’s economic structure has become much more narrow. There are still some high paid jobs available offering upward mobility, such as in the top-end financial services sector, but our youth do not have any distinctive edge over mainland or overseas competitors. All the difficulties leads to the social problem that hinder the youths’ growth, the low social mobility.


Social mobility is a process of social attainment. Education and the social class play an essential role in the facilitation of the movement between origin and destination. It is important to the creation of social harmony by building a more open - minded and fairer society where every individual is free to be successful. Youth social mobility refers to the transition within a social class or between social classes. It is a multi-dimensional concept beyond the quantitative measurement of changes to earnings, education and job status. It indicates whether young adults can access meaningful careers, affordable housing, a better quality of life, and discretionary spending capacity. Rates of mobility are often related to economic development. When the economy booms, new jobs are created and pervious jobs are improved. However, during the downturn, improvements is less frequent and mobility slows down drastically. Intergenerational mobility means that mobility between generation, for example the social status between fathers and sons. It usually refers to relative mobility: to compare chances of those from various class background reaching particular position in the social structure. Conversely, intragenerational mobility means that mobility within a single generation or an individual.

Current Situation in Hong Kong:

With the references of the Population Policy in 2013, younger generation in Hong Kong who aged between 20 and 30 with a full time job basically hovered around $10,000 in the past decade regarding their median monthly salary. With the cumulative inflation rate increased by 12 percent more during the same time, the monthly salaries of youth is expected to decrease in real terms significantly. Over 50 percent of labourforce in the lowest income bracket were unable to climb up the social ladder, despite after ten years of hard work. Most of young labour forces have become discouraged by the insufficient opportunities for upward mobility.

Regarding the occupational mobility, job opportunities for higher paid managerial and professional jobs are just limited in growth. Employed youths aged between 15 to 24 exhibited a broadly similar job picture during 1991 to 2011, albeit being more concentrated in associate professional jobs. However, there is a risen proportion of youths working in low wages and skills service sectors, from 21% in 1991 to 34% now. Workers who aged 15 to 28 with degree education were increasingly driven to clerical and service and sales jobs from 2001 to the present, which proved the lack of occupational mobility in the society.

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Intergenerational social mobility also is a key factor regarding the issue. With various figures, a positive correlation between the educational status and the salary level of parents and their kids is founded. According to a research of the Hong Kong University, when a father served as a professional, his son has an over 50% chance of also being a professional. This shows the inequality in the social mobility for the normal and poor families. The lack of economic diversification, changes of the labor market and the over- flooded with university degrees are all the major factors that affects the social mobility.

Possible Solutions:

Here are some possible solutions for Hong Kong’s youths to discover new opportunities for upward social mobility. To begin with, under this current informative society, innovation and entrepreneurship are the obvious ways to make a breakthrough. Innovation is a process of creating substantial value through new ideas. In terms of the business factor, product innovation, service innovation and business model innovation are all included. Throughout these years, a gradual transition has been maken and we are working under a market economy which created many discontinuities and provided many opportunities for young entrepreneurs. The rapid technological development along with the open-mind market allow business innovation to grow rapidly. For young generation of Hong Kong, mainland China is definitely a great platform for entrepreneurial pursuits. Progressively, the mainland is adding up values and support on the innovative field. Regarding the intrinsics, youth of Hong Kong actually have a slight advantage compared to mainland’s one due to the better language skills and growing up in a more open-minded society. All in all, China’s market can act as the finest platform for Hong Kong youth to showcase their abilities and climb up the social ladder. Also, the establishing of the Innovation and Technology Bureau by the government can definitely improve the current situation. A top to down approach of driving innovation and entrepreneurship has slowly emerged. Just a few successful cases of Hong Kong youth is enough to boost the whole industry drastically. Successful models like Victor Koo Wing-cheung, the founder of popular video hosting service Youku proves that the young generation of Hong Kong can actually complete with others and make a huge lift regarding the social mobility by their own hard work. A significant upward mobility for the youth can be achieved through the multiplier effect.

Secondly, taking into account of those with a sub degree, over 69 percent of youths have pursued post-secondary programmes. With this enormous figure, a reform of the existing educational system is needed to cope with the changes of the social, so that more movement in social mobility can be founded. A brand new education model which can develops all talents, not just academic but also vocational and creative is needed. Experiential learning should be the focus of the education system. Creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, resilience, communication skills and language proficiency are just far more essential in the future career. More vocational options should be offered to teenagers during their times as a student. By providing more career - related course, a stronger linkage between vocational training, future career and the knowledge learnt can be built. More guidance and internship should be provide to the youths so that they can find career paths that better suit their interests and abilities. The ultimate goal of education should be helping the youths to lay out a solid foundation for them to seek employment in different sectors.

Lastly, more actions to diversify the economy should be done by the government. The current economy is too heavily rely on tourism, real estate, finance and retail which restrained salaries rise and social mobility. More employment and job opportunities should be created by the government in order to enhance the overall competitiveness of Hong Kong’s youths and to enable our young labourforce to uplift their earnings.The government should capitalise on the current global trend of technology and reconstruct the economy model of Hong Kong through promoting innovative industries and investing more in research and development to make the whole economic structure more versatile and mature. With the market being more diversify, more job opportunities can be offered to young people to uplift their social status without stucking in this current packed economy.

However, all the mentioned solutions are in a long term basis, which cannot improve the problem in a short period. To relieve the situation immediately, provide capital subsidies such as start up assistance and transportation subsidies may be the most direct and simple method. Definitely, it can relieve some pressure of the back of the younger generation. However, the long term effectiveness is very questionable as this policy does not actually tackle the root problem. There may be a short term increase in social mobility, but the result will not be that significant. To maximise the effectiveness, the government should consider giving out subsidies along with the implication of various long term solutions as mentioned before.


Social mobility is essential to the creation of social harmony. With the belief that efforts can be made to improve one's prospects, society can be developed in a stable and sustainable manner. At this moment, the lack of new growth engines has restrained the social mobility. There have been calls for Hong Kong to adopt effective strategies to diversify and restructure its economy, for example, by diversifying the economy, reforming the educational system and supporting the growth of the innovative industry. These may all help dramatically in creating more higher paid and skilled job opportunities for the youths to enhance earnings and social mobility. Or else, it will change the young people's perception of fairness and equality, that might make them doubtful about social justice and frustrated over governance.

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