- Over 80% of millennials in Hong Kong live with their parents.
- The 2019-2020 protests had an impact on their mindset.
- Hong Kong’s millennials differ from their elders by being more vocal, expressive, and confident in both personality and work.
At 33, Ken Ho is what many Hong Kongers aspire to be.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ho attended one of the city’s top schools before heading to University College London. There, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in economics. He went on to get an MSc in finance at Imperial College London. His parents paid for his entire education.
When he came back to Hong Kong, Ho landed a role as an equity research associate at Fidelity Investments, where he worked for four years. Last year, he got his current job as a vice president at a venture capital firm. He earns 1.5 million Hong Kong dollars a year, or $191,000, including the base salary and three months’ bonus — well above the average annual salary in Hong Kong.
Ho lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend in Kennedy Town, a popular and family-friendly expat neighborhood. Like many homes in Hong Kong, their apartment is small, and it’s expensive: The space is 430 square feet and costs HK$27,000 a month.
Ho faces a struggle many Hong Kongers are all too familiar with — not being able to afford to buy a home. As he’s paying the mortgage on his parents’ place, he hasn’t been able to secure one for himself. “Hong Kong property prices are unreasonable, so at this point renting is more favorable than buying,” he told Insider.
But Ho’s situation is still far better than the average millennial in Hong Kong.
Summer Ng, 33, works as an events organizer and makes HK$22,000 a month. She lives at home with her mother and father, who own their 709-square-foot place in Kowloon Bay, an area nestled between the working-class neighborhoods of Kwun Tong and Ngau Tau Kok. Ng has no plans to buy her own place anytime soon due to the extortionate prices. “I don’t want to be a property slave,” she said.
Millennials are the last generation born before the July 1, 1997, handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China. The event marked the end of 156 years of British rule in the former colony. Those born after the handover have been dubbed the “cursed generation,” “1997 kids,” the “handover generation,” and “handover babies.” Millennials are the youngest Hong Kongers with memories of living in a British colony.
Insider spoke to six Hong Kong millennials in their 20s and 30s, along with financial and generational experts, to find out what makes this generation tick.
More than 80% of Hong Kong’s millennials live at home with their parents.
According to a global survey of 13,000 millennials between the ages of 22 and 29, including 1,000 millennials from Hong Kong, conducted by CBRE Hong Kong in 2016, 84% of Hong Kong millennials live with their parents, accounting for the highest percentage in Asia. Of these surveyed, 21% said they have no plans to leave the family home. About 70% of the surveyed Hong Kong millennials said they can only afford to buy or rent with financial support from family or friends.
More recently, government data in 2019 showed that 60% of Hong Kongers between the ages of 25 and 34 are living with their parents, reported the BBC.
In comparison, around 25% of millennials in the US live with their parents as of 2022, as published in a report by Property Management. Around 52% of millennials in the US are homeowners, according to Investopedia.
In Hong Kong, it’s not easy to buy a home. Hong Kong is the most expensive place to buy a house, according to the latest Global Living Report from CBRE. The average property price in Hong Kong is HK$9.8 million — the highest in the world.
“If I buy a property as a single person, there will be a lot of financial pressure,” said Ng. “The continued high property prices make me feel uncomfortable and deterred from buying.”
Aniqah Bhatnagar, 27, was born in India and moved to Hong Kong at four months old, where she grew up and currently lives. With a permanent Hong Kong Identity Card, she works for a US law firm as a pitch specialist. She lives in an apartment with her mother in Kwun Tong, an area in east Kowloon that has become a hub for both residential and commercial purposes.
Her mother owns the apartment. Bhatnagar cannot speak Cantonese, although it is the most commonly used language in Hong Kong. English is the co-official language of Hong Kong, and more than half the population can speak it.
Bhatnagar said her long-term goal is to buy a home — but, like many Hong Kongers, Bhatnagar is finding it difficult to get her foot in the door.
“You have to have saved or have access to a significant amount of liquidity for a down payment,” she said.
They are focused on saving for the future.
Wilson So, 36, works as a locksmith. He runs his business with a partner and can make up to HK$50,000 a month. He lives with his wife in a 550-square-foot home in Kai Tak, an up-and-coming part of the city with new high-rises, and pays HK$15,000 a month in rent. So said he saves about 30% of his income as “reserve” cash.
Bhatnagar said she tries to save 60 to 70% of her salary, and does so without having to pay a hefty rent — although the “Asian parent gratitude fee is customary in my household,” she said, explaining that there’s an unspoken rule in Asian households whereby you give a certain percentage of your income back to your parents to thank them for raising you. “It’s to show gratitude mainly, but also to thank my mother because I don’t pay rent in a terribly expensive city.
Ng said she puts her savings in for future retirement, though it’s not much with monthly savings of about HK$2,000 out of her salary. “I also use some as working capital for travel and emergencies,” she said.
The Hong Kong protests, followed by the pandemic, changed the city.
The Hong Kong protests took place between 2019 and 2020, with many students and adults taking to the streets to fight back against the government’s decision to introduce an extradition bill between Hong Kong and China.
Over six months, clashes between police and protestors caused disruption to city life. The tourism industry took a hit during this period, and the pandemic arrived shortly after. The extradition bill was eventually withdrawn.
Ng said she has noticed changes in the city. “After the social incidents, the freedom of news and speech has indeed been restricted,” she said. “Newspapers and editorials that once openly criticized the government and political figures, now rarely speak publicly. As for street demonstrations, even ‘outspoken people’ used to be common, but now they have disappeared.”
Bhatnagar doesn’t see herself living in the city in the long run, saying she’s looking to cities like Singapore or Sydney, as she’s seen a shift in the job market, which is now more limited to non-Chinese speakers. That being said, the large exodus from Hong Kong during the protests and pandemic gave rise to more job opportunities in the market.
Politically, Bhatnagar leans liberal. “The protests were an incredibly uncertain time, but I did feel slightly removed from them, as a lot of the nationalism that was in the atmosphere during that time, was not a feeling I shared,” she said. “Hong Kong has changed in the last five years due to the protests and the pandemic and is not somewhere I see myself long term, but that is not a direct result of the protests, it is due to larger issues such as a language barrier in the career workplace.”
Xu Huang, a chair professor in the department of management, marketing, and information systems at Hong Kong Baptist University said that younger people tend to have different values and focus on self-expression, “They’re more willing to tell people their needs, what they want, and ask for help,” he said.
Many Hong Kong millennials tend to have a localized lens, Huang said: They are focused on local job opportunities, local issues, and the local environment.
Many millennials choose to stay put in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is very unique compared to other European countries and even the mainland. When I ask if millennials want to move somewhere, they say they want to stay in Hong Kong,” said Huang. “Even going to the mainland is not in their consideration.”
This stands in contrast to his observations of European millennials, who he says are more willing to move.
“In many European countries, millennials are looking for more opportunities outside of their own environments, reaching as far as Asia or South America,” said Huang. “Hong Kong locals, in comparison, are very localized, focusing on localized job opportunities, education, and environment.
This could be due to a variety of factors, including the fact that Hong Kong has a good education system, Huang said.
According to The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019, growing up in a world of accelerated transformation has generally left millennials and the generation after them, Gen Zs, feeling unsettled about the future. Despite global economic growth, expansion, and opportunities, the survey saw these youths respond with deep declines towards their country’s social and political climates, institutions like the government, the media, and business.
The job market in Hong Kong is notoriously competitive.
The employment rate among millennials in Hong Kong is high.
According to the Census and Statistics Department, the employment rate for individuals between the ages of 25 and 39 is between 85.2% and 86.3%, as of June 2023.
For comparison, the employment rate for US millennials working full-time in 2018 is 66%, according to Statista.
The average salary in Hong Kong as of 2023 is around HK$36,583 per month. The average Hong Kong millennial currently makes less than that. Those between ages 25 and 34 make an average of HK$19,700 a month, per Morgan McKinley. Those between 35 and 44 make an average of HK$21,600.
Like other parts of Asia — including Singapore and South Korea — many individuals in Hong Kong have been left overqualified for the job market after obtaining multiple degrees in an attempt to stand out from the rest. This, combined with the effects of the 2008 financial crisis when Hong Kong SAR’s GDP growth declined from 6.4% in 2007 to 2.3 in 2008, has contributed to a highly competitive job search process for millennials in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has some of the world’s top universities. University of Hong Kong was ranked 31st and Chinese University of Hong Kong was 45, on the World University Rankings in 2023. Annual tuition fees for local students start from HK$17,290, or $2,210. By contrast, state colleges in the US cost an average of $10,230 per year, for residents.
Zurine Lau, 29, works as an account manager at a public relations firm, where she makes around HK$30,00 a month. She studied translation and interpretation at university. “Unfortunately I’m still repaying my institutional fee,” she said. She lives with her parents and brother in Yuen Long, a town in the western New Territories known for its villages and hiking trails.
Lau said she tries to save about 25% of her monthly salary and has no plans to stay in Hong Kong for the long term. “With the increasing house prices, it’s getting harder to buy a home here in Hong Kong,” she said.
Like many of their global counterparts, Hong Kongers are getting married and starting families later in life.
The median age of women at first marriage in Hong Kong in 2022 was about 30 years old, according to Statistica. In the US, the corresponding age for women is around 28.
Women in Hong Kong are delaying childbirth. The median age at which women had their first child in Hong Kong increased from 26.6 years in 1986 to 31.8 years in 2018, per the Equal Opportunities Commission.
A survey published in August by the Family Planning Association found that the number of children among the city’s couples dropped to a new low of 0.9.
Nearly all of the millennials Insider spoke to for this story expressed a similar sentiment on the topic of childbirth: It’s prohibitively expensive to raise a child in Hong Kong.
Ng, who is unmarried and has no children, said financial concerns will play a big part in her decision whether to have kids or not. “I will consider getting married, but as for having children, I must have enough financial support first,” she said.
Bhatnagar said financial security is a huge priority before considering kids. She doesn’t foresee herself having kids in the next few years.
Ho, the venture capitalist, isn’t in a rush to get married and start a family yet, either. “I don’t think the environment in Hong Kong is suitable for raising kids,” he said, adding that he would consider having children in another country.
Nick Shin, 38, a fitness instructor who rents a 200-square-foot apartment with his boyfriend in Tai Koo, said he and his partner are not considering having kids. “We don’t know if we can take care of a human life,” he said, adding that if they were to buy a home, it would be in another city, not Hong Kong.
According to the Hong Kong government’s immigration department website, every marriage must be the union of one man and one woman. Same-sex marriages or civil unions are not recognized in Hong Kong. However, same-sex partners do have equal parental rights over their children, are eligible for dependent visas, and can elect for joint tax assessment, per Hong Kong Free Press.
However, Hong Kong’s top court recently ordered the city’s government to set up a new system that can legally recognize same-sex couples, according to CNN. This was considered a victory for LGBTQ+ activists in the city, though the decision didn’t include fulfilling their demands for full marriage equality.
So, the locksmith, meanwhile, is married and has one kid on the way. The news was “unexpected,” he said. Despite his growing household, he says he has no plans to move somewhere larger, or get another job, after he has his first kid.
Hong Kong’s millennials are similar to their global counterparts in many ways. They’re getting married later in life, unwilling to sacrifice their entire lives to their jobs, and struggling to buy property.
Strikingly, several Hong Kong millennials said they feel different from Hong Kong’s older generations. Shin, the fitness instructor, said he has very “traditional Chinese parents.” “They want me to do a ‘nicer’ job such as an office job, but I never listen to them,” he said.
Hong Kong millennials struggle to prioritize well-being, according to a survey run by British health insurance company Bupa. The study surveyed 500 millennials aged 25 to 40 in Hong Kong between July and August 2022. It found that the generation’s top three goals are sleeping, exercising, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, for many, those goals are a pipe dream: Over half of those surveyed said they don’t have enough time to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Hong Kong is changing in so many ways and on various levels,” Lau, the account manager at a public relations firm said. “I’m longing for a big change in lifestyle — that’s why I want to live abroad,” she added.
“I believe the only thing that will never change here is the fast pace of life. This might be the reason millennials didn’t want to stick around,” Lau added.
Overall, Ng is happy to call this place home, despite the high prices. “I will stay in Hong Kong. I am a native of Hong Kong. Most of my family and friends live in Hong Kong. If I live abroad, I will not be used to it. Hong Kong is a very convenient city. No matter the transportation or the food, it is good.”
This story is part of a series called “Millennial World,” which seeks to examine the state of the generation around the globe.