Geography China City Investigation Profile - Hong Kong
Tippy Pei

Investigating the factors affecting the well-being of people in Hong Kong

Quote on Well-being:

Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors - ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.
-Sam Harris

Well-being, or welfare, generally refers to the condition of an individual or group, including their social, economic, psychological, spiritual and medical state. Having a high well-being is an indirect indication of how positive the experiences are the individual or group having.
The idea of investigating the well-being of people in different city was inspired by a group project done by a team of my schoolmates on the level of happiness in our campus. I was highly engaged by this project and lots of further inquires started popping up all at once. After being introduced to this project on creating a city profile, I instantly thought of focusing on their state of well-being since I think through my investigation, I would be able to gain a better understanding on this topic as a whole.
The idea of well-being, to a lot of people, is fairly vague term. It might mean different to different people. However, I still believe that there is some thing common amongst those definition. And through my investigation, I think I would be able to consolidate the idea of well-being in a city or society. And by drawing upon relationships and conclusion, I believe that my findings could facilitate me to try and make the city I am living in a happier place to live in.

Background and Overview

Being a major gateway to China, Hong Kong is a vibrant city.

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. Following British rule from 1842 to 1997, China assumed sovereignty under the 'one country, two systems' principle. The rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong are based on the impartial rule of law and an independent judiciary.

Hong Kong is the world's 8th largest economy. With the mainland of China as its most significant partner, Hong Kong's economy is characterised by free trade, low taxation and minimum government intervention.

  • Currency: Hong Kong dollar
  • GDP: HK$2270 billion
  • GDP per capita (PPP): HK$310,113
  • Real GDP growth: +3.0%
  • Labour force: 3.9 million

Figure 1. Population statistics of Hong Kong

As shown in the chart provided by the Information Services Department of Hong Kong government, Hong Kong had a population of approximately 720 million in 2014. As estimated at mid-2014, Hong Kong's population density was 6 690 persons per square kilometre.

7.15 million in 2012. People of Chinese descent comprise the vast majority of the population, with foreign nationals comprising 8%.

Figure. 2. Happiness Index of Hong Kong (2015)

As shown in the study conducted in 2015 by the City University of Hong Kong on the city's happiness level when comparing it to Osaka and Singapore , it attained the lowest amongst the cities. With an  overall happiness index of only 6.98 out of 10, it has reached its lowest comparing to the previous studies since it has never reached any score below seven (even during the outbreak of Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)). (Cheung)

In another research done by the New Economics Foundation, Hong Kong ranked the 102th out of the 150 of all the other countries analysed. In particular, it ranked the 60th in experienced well-being, 2nd in life expectancy, and 135th in ecological footprint. Some may argue that this research is comparing Hong Kong, a city, to other countries which may result in incorrect assumption. However, despite that fact that it is not comparing city to city, this index still provides information on the aspects that Hong Kong is doing well, could have done better, and needs extra improvements.

My question of inquiry is to investigate the factors affecting the well-being of people in Hong Kong. In order to break this topic down for easier research and data analysis, I divided it into 3 sub-questions:

  1. what is wellbeing and how to measure it?
  2. what kind of impact does it have on an individual and society?
  3. how is wellbeing affected by other factors in Hong Kong?

Measuring well-being

In order to answer this question, I looked for specific organisations that could provide me specified indications or guidelines to assess a city's level of well-being.

The Bhutan Gross National Happiness

The Bhutan Gross National Happiness

The Royal Government of Bhutan in 2005 made the decision to develop GNH indicators that is a measurable assessing guideline on the city's happiness.

This concept involves 9 domains that they believe largely contributes to the well-being of a nation. The 9 domains are listed below:

1. Psychological Wellbeing

2. Standard of Living

3. Good Governance



6.Community Vitality

7.Cultural Diversity and Resilience

8. Time Use

9. Ecological Diversity and Resilience

The following is a video explaining it concept

The PERMA Model

The PERMA Model was developed by respected positive psychologist, Martin Seligman.

The five characters in the word "PERMA" stands for the five essential elements that are important to experience lasting

"PERMA" stands for the five essential elements that should be in place for us to experience lasting well-being. These are:

1. Positive Emotion

2. Engagement

3. Positive Relationships

4. Meaning

5. Accomplishment

Even though these two measurements are not completely the same, there are some similarities and common aspects that both of the systems shares.

For example, they both think that maintaining a positive emotional environment is very important. In addition, their common thoughts on achieving a better live standard could also be seen.

Factors on Positive Environment

As discussed before, a positive environment is very important to a society's wellbeing. However, as we could see before in the study conducted by the City University of Hong Kong, it has shown that Hong Kong is now possessing a very low happiness level. From the diagram, we could observe that it has significantly attained a lower scoring in political social category.

A few months ago, there was a series of protesting activities called Occupy Central that took place in Hong Kong's major business district.  In the course of the 2014 Hong Kong electoral reform, the initiating party, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, intended to pressure the PRC Government into granting an electoral system which "satisfies the international standards in relation to universal suffrage" in Hong Kong Chief Executive election in 2017 as promised according to the Basic Law.

This series of protesting activities not only created chaos in the society and disrupted its functionality, but also provoked negative emotions amongst the citizens. This hence leads to creating a negative thinking environment in the society where all the people would just think about how unfortunate they are and keep on panicking and complaining about the current situation in a non-constructive way.

Factors on Living Standard

As previously discussed before, achieving a better living standard is one of the major factors that contribute to the wellbeing of a society.

As shown in the study by City University in Hong Kong, housing is the criterion that has attained the lowest scoring among all other criteria.

Housing Problem has long been a serious issue in Hong Kong for the general public due to its ridiculously high pricing and more importantly, insane rise in price every year that only a little proportion of the general public could cope with.

More unequal countries have worse social indicators, a poorer human-development record, and higher degrees of economic insecurity and anxiety.”

Hong Kong’s land regulation policies and high-density development has had significant impacts on the level of crowding amongst its housing stock. A Hong Kong resident has an average of 13 square metres of living space available to them, a quantity that is far lower than those residents with similar levels of income in other cities like London and New York.

In the dense central areas of Hong Kong Island, the number of rooms per person is higher where the population is richer. The ownership rates in such areas are also significantly higher. Since the number of rooms per person is a good measure and reflection of overcrowding, the diagram above has clearly illustrates the unequal spatial pattern in the Hong Kong. Almost almost 60 per cent of households living on Hong Kong Island own their property. This index is relatively lower in parts where there are more deprived neighbourhoods, such as in Kowloon and central New Territories.

With the government's substantial housing programmes, Public housing makes up 31 per cent of the overall housing stock in Hong Kong is made up by public housing. ("Mapping Social Determinants.") This is much higher in Kowloon and the southern parts of the New Territories. Even though the idea is to deliver the majority of public housing through the creation of new towns, the significant difference in the living quality and environment aggravates the problem of social inequality, which results in poor well-being standard.

While low income is one important social factor in determining vulnerability in relation to health, living in poor housing conditions adds another important burden, and one which is disproportionately felt by low income residents. This leads to higher degree in economic insecurity and anxiety, which impact the happiness and well-being in Hong Kong.

Media and documentaries

This video is done by a Hong Kong online community Localizz. They set off and interviewed 100 people living in Hong Kong and asked how happy they are in Hong Kong. It has shown that the citizens are generally feeling positive about Hong Kong. This is slightly contradictory comparing to the research result done by the City University of Hong Kong. One of the reason why could be the people they are interviewing. As shown in the video, the interviewee were mostly foreigners or people who could speak English. The opinion might not be able to represent the opinions of the local people. However, from this video, we could see that there are still aspects of Hong Kong that are appreciated by the citizens.

The video shown above is a report by CCTV America discussing the happiness level of Hong Kong. In this video, it has shown the importance of maintaining a good social order and government to a city as shown in Hong Kong's recent low happiness level. The report reveals that the survey was conducted a month after the occupy central protest, which suggests gives valid reasons to the dramatic decrease. This video also pointed out that lack of engagement of ethic minorities is also a factor affecting the happiness and well-being of Hong Kong.

Looking into the Future

Hong Kong has already established its position in the World as one of the most advanced city. However, internally, it still has aspects that could be improved. Social well-being has recently been a major issue in Hong Kong due to the protest activities and long-term housing problem. In order to make Hong Kong a better place to live in, it requires the collaboration, compromise and tolerance of both the government and citizens to tackle the existing social issues.


Cheung, Elizabeth. "Sad City: Hong Kong Comes Bottom of Asian Happiness Survey." Sad City: Hong Kong Comes Bottom of Asian Happiness Survey. South China Morning Post, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

"Mapping Social Determinants." LSE Cities. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. .

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