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Social Mobility in Hong Kong

The concept of social mobility is useful in explaining why individuals in society move to a different social ladder. Various factors such as earnings, education, and occupation determine one’s level of social class. It is imperative that a government plays a vital role in empowering its people to move a social ladder. That is by creating jobs for the youths and increasing the earnings of individuals. The growth engines are essential in increasing earning and enhancing the quality of life. Over the years, different cities have continued to identify and create opportunities to enable their citizens to move the social ladder. One of such cities is Hong Kong which has been striving to create social harmony where all residents succeed by getting better income, access to quality education, and getting better employment opportunities. Regarding that, social mobility movement occurs when one moves a social ladder by changing their social status. A social ladder refers to the social status a person holds, and that is different from what the parents held. The research will provide a detailed discussion of social mobility its relationship with earning, education and occupation. Also, the research will identify strategies Hong Kong Government will apply in creating job opportunities for its youth.

Social mobility

According to Birbalsing (2021), social mobility occurs when one acquires different social status. The shift can be to the low, higher, intra-generational, or inter-generational. Notably, the change can be good or bad. The concept provides that no society is completely closed and that there are no two or more societies are the same. The speed of social mobility depends on a country or state’s ability to support its people to achieve their goals. As such, social mobility can happen when individuals from one social ladder to another. While it is more or less beneficial in motivating persons to pursue different activities that enhance their standards of living, their governments play a vital role in creating opportunities that help them move up the social ladder. As highlighted by Rolfe (2017), social mobility takes different forms, and individuals can experience it at different stages of their life. That implies the factors for social mobility are independent and can overlap.

Further, social mobility can be horizontal, vertical, or upward. With horizontal social mobility, a person changes their occupation and maintains the same social standing. For example, a doctor can shift from practicing medicine and move into teaching a medical school, and in that case, their prestigious social standing remains almost the same. As noted by Rolfe (2017), changing an occupation may not necessarily mean climbing a social ladder. For instance, one can change religion, political affiliation, or territory without creating any social impact. As such, one may not achieve any horizontal social mobility. On one end, vertical social mobility happens when a person goes for a different occupation, increases earnings, or subscribes to a religion that alters their societal position. A person is likely to move from one social stratum to another and that can be either ascending or descending. Ascending occurs when an individual moves to a higher social rank (Birbalsing, 2021). For example, if one left a job and started doing business that earns more income, they will have moved from a lower social group to a higher one. Finally, with upward social mobility, a person attains a higher social status. Despite the change, one can also experience some challenges. For instance, if one becomes a political leader, they will lose their privacy and their interaction with their families (Gugushvili et al., 2021). Hopefully, their way of thinking and behaving will change to adapt to the new status. Considering an example of a managerial role, one should work on their communication skills to effectively engage with the employees and other stakeholders. Other social mobility changes that can occur to an individual are downward mobility, inter-generational, and intra-generational.

With downward mobility, a person moves from a higher position to a lower position. Considering the case of job loss, one will lose income. Consequently, one cannot sustain their standard of living. It can also be a stressful experience trying to adapt to new declined social status. In the case of inter-generational mobility, one shift from one generation to another. What happens when it grows from a child to an adult or old age (Birbalsing, 2021). The change requires one to think and act differently. Lastly, with intra-generational change, one position to another can happen once in one’s lifetime. For instance, one can start working as a clerk before they become managers and directors. In a family setting, one can achieve higher social status than their siblings.

Application of the concept of social mobility

Earnings mobility

When an individual’s level of income shits, they move from one economic status to another. Depending on the level of income, one can create or pursue growth opportunities that benefit them. Looking at the case of Hong Kong, its economy has continued to grow by over 6.6% since 1978. The trend is attributed to the business opportunities created by the Mainland Door Policy of 1978 (LEGCO, 2019). In line with that, Hong Kong has managed to relocate its manufacturing operations to leverage itself as a service economy. The ample job opportunities the transformation created positively impact the income of the residents. With the high demand for the workforce, the citizens get better pay. With a monthly income of over 14%, the residents have significant disposable income to pay for their luxury needs. Arguably, the positive change in income has seen more people move up the social ladder (Gugushvili et al., 2021). The city of Hong Kong is grouped among the top globally in terms of income and grouped into the five quintiles.

The increased earnings have improved access to decent houses. The residents can afford to build their own houses. As a social mobility indicator, increased income implies individuals can own private houses as opposed to renting flats. While that is a plus for a well-performing economy, the change has impacted the real estate developers. Whit the increase of about 30% in household income, the trend will influence the decisions of the residents in constructing their houses (LEGCO, 2019). The change will necessitate the construction of houses that match the standards of the market. In accordance, income is an important factor in social mobility. It influences not only the disposable income but also the needs of the consumers. Basically, the level of earnings determines the kind of products and services one consumes (Rolfe, 2017). Since it is significant to afford some lifestyle, the residents of any given city consider their disposable income and the buying decisions they make. In so doing, they shift their social ladder by accessing benefits they never had.

Level of education as social mobility factor

When an individual gets more knowledge, they understand their needs and the decisions they make when purchasing a product or service. For example, with quality education systems, students can get information about the available job opportunities. For instance, they can evaluate the quality of the content they get by looking at the rankings of their universities. Most importantly, the specific features of a particular education system provide a ranking of an individual in society (LEGCO, 2019). For example, an individual pursuing a degree from an elite university will regard themselves as superior in community. In so doing, they tend to develop behaviors congruent with the members of the group.

In Hong Kong, the level of education remains a critical factor in influencing social mobility. As individuals attain a particular level of education, they acquire certain societal status. Currently, over 27.3% of the population in Hong Kong has post-secondary education. The enrolment doubled from 11.3% in 1991. The trend is attributed to the rapid expansion of education opportunities that benefit youths aged between 15 and 24 years. In 2011, the number of students aged between 15 and 24 years increased by 39.3%. The numbers are expected to reach 60% in ten years’ time (LEGCO, 2019). Regarding that, education attainment continues to play a role in determining one’s social status. Notably, individuals who attain post-secondary education, climb up the social ladder after getting good jobs. It so happens that they recognize opportunities in the market and also pursue career prospects that pay well. Education, therefore, plays a significant role in determining an individual’s social status (CFI, n.d.). For example, one can attain certain status by pursuing a course that gives them a high chance of getting employed.

Acquiring higher education is deemed to determine occupational and economic status. Notably, one will get better employment terms for completing higher education studies. An important issue that derives from undertaking higher education is the ability to identify and investigate opportunities in the market. As an indicator of recognition and knowledge, one can use the knowledge attained to create distinct attributes that give a competitive advantage in the labor market. Further, education attainment in most countries influences the recruitment of graduates (Gugushvili et al., 2021). Most employers look at the GPA scores to rate job candidates. Most often, those who have better scores and from leading universities get consideration. In a societal context, that defines one’s level of income and standards of living. Considering the case of Australia, students with the highest quartile have better socioeconomic status than those with low quartiles. The relationship between higher education attainment and social status is significant as it impacts one’s cognitive ability to determine and make critical decisions.

Conclusively, education is central in evaluating and determining an individual’s social status. One can use experience and skills gained to look for employment with better payment. In so doing, one can access basic services such as medical care, housing, security, and family obligations. As a measure of social class, the level of education should be used to understand the opportunities one can get (LEGCO, 2019). In the job market, education could help create flexibility in identifying and accessing offers that suit one’s choice. In line with that, one can use education to bargain for better opportunities. That is essential in setting specific social standards that benefit an individual.

Occupation as a social mobility factor

Occupation is expressed and determined by activities an individual engages in to generate income. For example, one can work as a doctor, lecturer, consultant, or educator to earn some income. A person’s socioeconomic status greatly depends on the occupation. In Hong Kong, several occupation opportunities have been opening, and professionals are benefiting the most. The aspects of skill and knowledge play a vital role in influencing recruitment (LEGCO, 2015). In 2011, the demand for a high-skilled workforce increased to 39% from 23.2% in 1991. Although there is still a gap in meeting the market demand, creating more job opportunities for professionals is essential. Individuals working in professional occupations stand a better chance of improving their social status.

The youth aged between 15 and 24 years benefit the most from the job opportunities created by the market. Since most of them highly regard social status, their occupation is vital as it defines the services they acquire (CFI, n.d.). While upward occupation mobility is essential in enhancing one’s quality of life, it is important to note not all get equal opportunities. The aspect of social inequality plays a part in determining an individual’s prospects in the job market and society. In society, such occupations as medicine, engineering, law, or accounting are highly regarded. Individuals who occupy them are perceived to be in the upper-middle and upper social classes (LEGCO, 2015). That is because the occupations correspond with high income and brilliant educational attainment. Nevertheless, the persons holding such occupations may get higher social classes without necessarily having a lot of income. Qualifying in the occupations requires one to have relevant degrees. Since the number of persons who hold them is relatively small, their regard in society is very high.

Additionally, educational attainment and occupation are pre-requisites for prestigious esteem. In society, a perceived may be perceived to be of a certain class by virtue of the degrees they have or their work. Independent of their level of income, one can acquire high social status because of the job they do. While the variables may not be linked, evaluation by society may place an individual in a particular class. For example, a university professor will rank high in a social stratum because of their education attainment (LEGCO, 2015). Also, that is because of the esteem the professors hold and the role they play in creating and nurturing the minds of individuals. Consequently, occupation in society is a key factor in determining a person’s social class. Even without a lot of income, one could hold a high social class because of their occupation or training.

Strategies for the Hong Kong government

Research shows that providing quality education to the youth and creating employment opportunities enables them to climb the social ladder. Hong Kong being China’s special administrative region, youth employment and education are strong instruments for improving their living standards (LEGCO, 2015). With over 7.5 million people, the city is bound to grow and increase its population. It is looking forward to creating a more versatile education program that will help the young generation in the region to improve their social status (Thomson, 2018). Same way, providing more job opportunities to the youth will increase their income and will have an influence in raising their social standards. The case of Hong Kong could draw lessons from Finland, which has initiated and implemented various programs to empower its youth. To enhance its response to the educational and employment needs of its young generation, the following strategies ought to be implemented.

Youth’s education

One of the strategies the Hong Kong government could use to support its youthful generation is by promoting youth work education. The program will see the city’s youthful population enroll in different courses at different levels. In Finland, the education system enables youth to work as they attend their training. Also, the policy allows youth to pursue courses of their interests (OECD, 2012). Replicating and implementing the policy in Hong Kong will allow more young people to attend courses that will enable them to get job opportunities. The work education system is essential in allowing more youth to pay for their training. One of the challenges many young people face in Hong Kong face is the high cost of training (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2012). While the strict work timeliness hinders a majority from pursuing further education, their hopes of improving their social standards are shuttered (IEG, 2013). Consequently, introducing the policy will see young people aged between 15 and 24 years enroll in different trainings as they work.

Also, the Hong Kong government can introduce an education funding program for the youth. It will help bridge the social gap between low-income families and the rich (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2012). Since the issue cost is a significant consideration, the government could think of setting up a fund that supports students from low-income families. As provided in the recommendations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), equity and quality education is essential to all learners. Irrespective of the socioeconomic status, all desiring learners get equal opportunity to pursue further education (The World Bank, 2019). Equity and quality policies support learners from disadvantaged families (OECD, 2012). By implementing the requirement, Hong Kong will ensure young people interested in higher education acquire skills and knowledge that empowers them in the job market. Reasonably, they fully participate in activities that shape modern society like communication, leadership, and development.

Strategies for youth employment opportunities

Looking into the case of Finland, creating employment opportunities offers all young people under the age of 25 years a place on-the-job training. The Youth Guarantee program also covers individuals under the age of 30 years who has not been employed. The specific elements in the guarantee include employment, training and education, provision of workshop training, and planning outreach for exposure. In Hong Kong, the policy will play a vital role in supporting the youth to attend training and also secure jobs. That is critical in helping them earn and improve their living standards (SDG, n.d.). In implementing the strategy, both the national government and local authorities, through the ministry of education, will conduct interactive sessions with interested students to identify their needs. As such, the government will develop a model like ‘Sanssi Card’ for Finland. It offers a wage subsidy for junior employees. Also, it lowers the criteria for getting hired. In most cases, the challenge young people encounter when searching for jobs is competition (Kiilakoski, 2019). The employers require they have some experience. However, that is not always possible since they are from school and cannot compete with ones already in the job market.

Further, the Hong Kong government can introduce a program that supports entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for the youth. One of the areas to focus on is skill development. Since the labour market is becoming highly competitive, bridging the skills gap through formal and informal training will help the population compete with the experienced workers (SDG, n.d.). Also, it could be necessary to look into issues related to national and institutional frameworks to create jobs that suit young people. For example, the government can introduce scheme projects that give preference to the youth. With affirmative action, young graduates will be absorbed and have places where they can acquire marketable skills. Most importantly, creating opportunities for entry-level jobs will enable one to access employment once they finish school. Finally, the government can consider avenues for strengthening leadership channels and identifying youths that are disadvantaged. Regarding that, skills training and programmes will offer technical support the target population could use to work in different capacities (Kiilakoski, 2019). The ultimate objective of all the interventions should be to empower young people by having an income. The basic value should be to enable them to afford decent life by changing their living standards. Notably, the situation in Hong Kong is evolving and becoming a commercial hub where a significant population could migrate to search for employment. The young population remains dominant, and their representation in society cannot be assumed. In response to that, it will be the responsibility of the government to identify employment opportunities that will benefit the youth.


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IEG (2013). Youth employment programs: An evaluation of World Bank and IFC support. Independent Evaluation Group, Washington.

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