Hongkongers aged between 20 and 24 were seeing up to a quarter less in their average monthly pay packet in 2019 than back in 1994, according to government data adjusted for inflation. The drop in salary levels was more drastic for those who attained higher levels of education.

Over the same period, Hong Kong’s GPD per capita — its economic output per person — rose by 73 per cent, according to Census and Statistics Department data.

University of Hong Kong students. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Average monthly incomes for young Hongkongers did not increase between 1994 and 2019, and in most cases, saw a falling trend. That is according to census data compiled by the Financial Services and the Treasury published on Wednesday as a written response to questions submitted by pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Luk.

Downward trend

The data shows average monthly earnings for six generations (cohorts) of Hongkongers. The figures represent a comparison of earnings for different generations, when they were at the same stages of life.

For instance, for Hongkongers with an undergraduate education, the income of those born between 1970 and 1974 when they were 20-24 years old was HK$19,400. Meanwhile, the income those born between 1995 and 1999 was HK$18,000 when they were at the same age.

Adjusted for inflation into 2018 Hong Kong dollars, the data compares the trends of their full-time employment earnings at different education levels and in higher age groups between 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, and 30-39 years old.

The drop in average monthly income over 25 years for young adults between 20 and 24 years old was greater among those who were more educated, the data shows. Average monthly income dropped 25.6 per cent between 1994 and 2019 for post-graduates in this age group.

This means a 24-year-old in 2019 would – on average – make a quarter less in salary than a 24-year-old in 1994, despite both having attained a post-graduate education.

The drop was 7.2 per cent for those with undergraduate degrees of the same age, and 2.7 per cent for those with a post-secondary non-degree education.

Small increases for the least educated

The same trend of falling incomes was seen across all generations and education levels between 1994 and 2019, with the exception of those who attained the lowest education level amongst them.

For individuals between 20 and 24 years of age who attained no more than upper secondary education, average monthly salary increased 11 per cent between 1994 and 2019. Salaries also rose for those between 25-29 and 35-39 years old in the same education strata.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam urged young people to seize opportunities in mainland China after her administration launched the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme: “Hong Kong enjoys unique advantages and the central government has given us full support in the 14th Five-Year Plan. And we have abundant opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.”

Carrie Lam on Tuesday. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Under the programme, graduates are subsidised to work in the Guangdong Bay Area.

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.