01.03.04. Poverty and inequality | Hong Kong SAR

01.03.04. Poverty and inequality | Hong Kong SAR

16 Aug 2022

Since 2013, the Hong Kong Government has officially defined the poverty line as 50% of the median monthly domestic household income. The poverty lines of from 1-person to 6-person+ household in 2017 were HK$4,000, HK$9,800, HK$15,000, HK$19,900, HK$20,300, and HK$22,500 respectively (HKSAR Government, 2018). Households with monthly household income lower than the poverty line are defined as “poor households” and all members of these households are referred as “poor population”.

The poverty situation of Hong Kong can be reflected by four sets of indicators, including one set of “before-intervention” statistics and three sets of “after-intervention” statistics. The “before-intervention” poverty statistics are compiled with the assumption of no prevailing government policies and measures, which form an objective benchmark for assessing the effectiveness of intervention. It only includes household members’ employment earnings, investment income, and non-social-transfer cash income. “After-intervention” poverty statistics are compiled by further including the income provided by the government policies and measures, such as taxation, recurrent-cash benefits, non-recurrent cash benefits, and in-kind benefits. In 2017, the poverty rate before intervention was 20.1% (1,376,600 persons). After recurrent cash intervention, the poverty rate improved to 14.7% (1,008,800 persons). Among those aged 65 and over, the poverty rate after recurrent cash intervention was 30.5% (340,000 persons) (HKSAR Government, 2018).

Inequality between a society’s rich and poor is often measured by the Gini coefficient, with zero indicating equality. In 2016, the Gini coefficient of Hong Kong based on original monthly household income was 0.539 and that based on post-tax post-social transfer monthly household income was 0.473. It was the highest over the past 45 years with an increase of 0.006 points since 2006, and worse than other developed economies such as Singapore (0.356), United States (0.391), United Kingdom (0.351), Australia (0.337), and Canada (0.318) (Census and Statistics Department, 2017a; Oxfam Hong Kong, 2018).

For gender inequality in income, the median monthly income of males and females in 2016 were $16,890 and $12,000 respectively, with males’ income 40.8% higher. Also, there was a higher percentage of working women (9.1%) (excluding foreign domestic helpers) with monthly income from main employment below $6,000 than that of men (4.6%). The difference between income of working women and men can be attributed to differences between working women and men in industrial and occupational distributions, educational attainment, working experience, and nature of work. For example, proportionally more women (19.8%) than men (8.7%) worked as clerical support workers who had relatively lower monthly income from main employment in 2016. On the other hand, there was a higher proportion of men (21.2%) working as managers and administrators and professionals than women (13.1%) who had relatively higher monthly income (Census and Statistics Department, 2017a).


Census and Statistics Department. (2017a). Hong Kong 2016 Population By-census – Thematic Report: Household Income Distribution in Hong Kong. Retrieved from https://www.censtatd.gov.hk/hkstat/sub/sp459.jsp?productCode=B1120096

HKSAR Government. (2018). Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2017. Hong Kong: HKSAR Government Retrieved from https://www.povertyrelief.gov.hk/eng/pdf/Hong_Kong_Poverty_Situation_Report_2017(2018.11.19).pdf.

Oxfam Hong Kong. (2018). Hong Kong Inequality Report. Retrieved from https://www.oxfam.org.hk/tc/f/news_and_publication/16372/Oxfam_inequality%20report_Eng_FINAL.pdf