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Hong Kong women face pressure to settle down. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)
Economy

A silver lining amid wedding bell blues

More women than men makes finding a husband tough work

HONG KONG --  Sarah Fung is only 26, but she is already worried she won't be able to get married.

"I am very nervous. Finding a boyfriend in Hong Kong is extremely difficult, and there is a lot of pressure," she said. Many young women are troubled about the prospect of being single at 30, she says.

Her fears are not unfounded. Hong Kong has a significant gender imbalance that has worsened over the last three decades. In 2016, there were just 852 men for every 1,000 women in the city, government figures show.

Even after Hong Kong's foreign domestic helpers are factored out, there are still only 925 men for every 1,000 women.

Women send children to school in Hong Kong (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

More males than females are born in Hong Kong annually, but women outnumber men in nearly every age group from 25 and above.

A key reason behind the trend is Hong Kong's aging population, with women living for an average of nearly six years longer than men. In 2015, there were twice as many women over age 85 as there were men.

But another factor behind the imbalance is that many Hong Kong men are choosing to marry women from China and bringing them to live in Hong Kong.

Latest government figures show cross-border partnerships account for 38% of marriages registered in Hong Kong.

Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia and Australasia at the Economist Intelligence Unit, says Hong Kong men tend to view mainland wives as being more likely to stay at home and play the traditional role.

This trend exacerbates the economic impact of Hong Kong's gender imbalance and aging population.

Government projections show that by 2041, for every 1,000 people of working age, there will be 712 dependents, more than double the 355 dependents per 1,000 workers in 2012. The government is trying to expand Hong Kong's labor force, and is seeking to nudge the rate of female employment higher.

Innes-Ker says women's participation in the labor market is still just 55%, significantly below the 63% average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Economic impact

The gender imbalance also increases economic risks posed by the aging population, particularly as women live longer and tend to be higher users of health care services.

Lisa Moore, senior manager at nonprofit organization The Women's Foundation, said: "The growing gender imbalance will have potentially far-reaching effects both economically and socially, but the lack of public data and proper analysis means we don't know the full extent."

Female reporters can be seen in a press conference in Hong Kong (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Some companies are cashing in on the gender imbalance, offering services beyond those of traditional dating agencies. One charges single women 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,870) a year for coaching on how to talk to men and tips on improving their appearances.

The company also promises to introduce each woman to 20 men within a year and will even act as a chaperone on first dates. One of Fung's friends signed up, but complained the advice was not useful, and the men she was introduced to did not seem serious about a relationship.

Other women are taking more drastic measures and having cosmetic procedures to boost chances of snagging a partner. Cosmetic surgeons advertise under slogans such as "Change for chance" and "Never too late."

"Beautiful girls don't have to worry about finding a boyfriend because a lot depends on your face, rather than your personality," Fung said, adding that some of her classmates have had cosmetic procedures to enlarge their eyes and straighten their noses. Many borrowed money to pay for surgery, seeing it as an investment in their future.

But not everyone considers Hong Kong's gender imbalance a problem. Some see it as an opportunity to promote the advancement of women, who are still underrepresented in leadership roles, accounting for just 12% of board positions.

Moore hopes the imbalance will encourage the government and the private sector to introduce inclusive policies.

Although she has a boyfriend, Ng, in her 30s, says Hong Kong women are not nearly as focused on finding husbands.

"Women are now more educated and they have more opportunities to be leaders," she said. " Young ladies in Hong Kong are more independent and they are happy to focus on their careers. They don't really care if they find a boyfriend."

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