The imbalance has already had repercussions for Hong Kong’s society. “With so many more women than men in Hong Kong, older men can easily find younger women as their other halves,” says 26-year-old Janice, a public relations adviser. “It means that men can focus on their career while they're young, and then find their other half at around 30 while women have to worry about focusing on their career and finding love simultaneously.”
50 years ago, Hong Kong’s gender ratio was relatively level, but in the past decade, a steady flow of female migrants from the Philippines and Indonesia, seeking work as domestic helpers, have arrived in the territory, and there are now 300,000 of these women registered in Hong Kong. But even if you remove migrant women from the data, population demographics remain significantly lopsided in favor of women.
So what accounts for the phenomenon? One explanation is the increasing number of cross-border marriages between Hong Kong men and mainland women, which, in 2012, accounted for more than 30 percent of all registered marriages in the city. But with all the single women available in Hong Kong, why are men looking overseas in search of romance?
“There are several reasons,” says Dr. Suzanne Choi, a researcher in gender studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Hong Kong women are highly qualified and independent, but the marriage norm of men marrying down and women marrying up has remained largely intact. So some men may be unable to find a local wife due to their comparative socioeconomic disadvantages. But some may also want to find a wife with lower qualifications and earning power anyway, so they can conform to social expectations. The increase in regional economic integration has resulted in a large number of Hong Kong men working in South China so they actually have far more opportunities to meet mainland women than ever before.”
Despite the shortage of eligible partners, women in Hong Kong are renowned for being selective, but their reasons for seeking men with higher earning power are also linked to the growing financial pressure on couples.
“I think most women just want to find men who can support them and their future families so they’re all looking for men who are capable of buying houses and have a reasonable income,” Janice says. “This is because Hong Kong has housing issues. Prices are continuously rising due to inflation, but salaries are not increasing at the same rate, so everyone’s working extra hard to earn money and women will look for men with higher earning capabilities. But [these men] may be difficult to find.”
Dr. Choi also feels that women expect far more from marriages than in the past when the need for financial security was often a defining factor.
“Previously women mainly looked for qualities such as work ethic and ability to support the family in a future husband, while the personality of a future wife was key for men,” she says. “But in contemporary Hong Kong society, there’s an expectation for marriages to be based on love and romance. So if the man’s merely hard working, that may not be enough. He also needs to be romantic and the couple needs to have chemistry.”