Robert is a senior analyst in an investment bank in Central. He’s only 30 years old but already earns about HK$1 million a year. Despite his high salary, he doesn’t think of himself as “middle class.” He doesn’t even know what “middle class” means. He says he doesn’t own a property and thus doesn’t be belonged to that category.
Robert cannot afford a “nice” apartment
Robert says that if he wanted a “nice” apartment, it will probably cost him at least HK$10 million, which would require a HK$5 million downpayment. To save up that amount of money, it will still take him years. But the problem is that by the time he has that money saved up, he will probably face a different property market and economy.
In Hong Kong, middle class is defined by asset
“Middle class” can be defined by many things – education, wealth, upbringing, values, or even language – but what makes Hong Kong unique is the tie between the economy and the property market. Middle class, in the minds of many, relates to the assets they possess. The most important type of asset in Hong Kong is no doubt property.
The rise of the “sandwiched class”
In recent years, price of property has increased so much that property in Hong Kong is now the most expensive in the world. Median price of a flat is about 15 times median annual income. Robert now belongs to the “sandwiched class”, a group between the lower class on one hand, and those who can afford private housing on the other.
High income, low disposable assets
Although Robert has a high income, he feels stuck as he’s still unable to buy a flat, and yet unable to obtain assistance. The government uses income as a way of classifying social class. But the property market has created a trend of high earners with low disposable assets, and vice versa. Robert spends 1/3 of his income on rent alone.
Hong Kong’s definition of social class inevitably involves property ownership. HongKongers are now driven to be part of the propertied class, rather than the dying “middle class” which will soon no longer exist. As the price of property continues to reach record highs month after month, a better question perhaps isn’t to ask another which social class he belongs to. You might as well ask him how many properties, if at all, he owns.