Singapore vs Hong Kong – Where would you rather be living in?
By Damon Yeo, Business Correspondent
It is not difficult to hear Singapore and Hong Kong being mentioned in the same breath. The general consensus is that these two states are similar in many ways except that life is more stressful in Hong Kong. This article will seek to unravel if there is any truth in this particular generalisation.
Singapore and Hong Kong are almost identical culturally, historically and economically, thus warranting a comparison of lifestyles in the two states.
Both states are Chinese-dominated in terms of population. Chinese make up about three-quarters of Singapore’s population and about 100% of that in Hong Kong. Traditional Chinese beliefs, customs and practices influence a large portion of the people in both states. Also, population density is high both fully urbanised states, with Singapore being the 3rd most densely populated in the world and Hong Kong being the 4th.
The colonial histories of both states are heavily linked to the British. Both states thrived as important trading ports for the British Empire in the Far East because of geographical location, with Singapore the centre of command for trades through the Straits of Malacca and Hong Kong, the South China Sea. Entrepot trade is a main driver of development of both ports.
Economically, we could not be more similar. Lack of arable land and natural resources meant that both states are heavily reliant on the labour force to succeed. Over the last thirty years or so, both economies had progressed rapidly from relying on light manufacturing in the 60’s and 70’s to services from 90’s onwards. Both Singapore and Hong Kong are now important financial centres in Asia.
To measure stress levels is highly subjective and debatable. Naturally, different people worry about different things. To make any sense for comparison, we are hypothetically creating a protagonist named Joe. He is from middle-class background and employed in the financial services industry (39% of labour force in Singapore and 21% in Hong Kong). He is 35-years-old, married and have two kids (one at primary education level, the other at secondary). The main drivers of stress levels for Joe are financial well-being and the well-being of his young family.
Two publicly available reports are used for this article – WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report 2009 and UBS’ Prices and Earning Report 2009.
Joe is likely to worry about the stability of job and his financial well being. In a previous article (read http://temasekreview.com/?p=13529) , it was noted that Singapore had been ranked number one in labour efficiency by the WEF, somewhat implying the most stressful working conditions for Joe. Hong Kong is not very much better for Joe in this aspect (overall 4th in the world). However, Joe can feel slightly more assured in Hong Kong, because he can expect a redundancy payout of about 62 weeks of wages should he be made redundant there (just 4 weeks in Singapore).
In terms of wage levels, Joe in Singapore will only take home (post-tax) 74% of that Hong Kong Joe. This means very little of course, but if we look at domestic purchase power, Singapore Joe only earns 69% that of Hong Kong Joe (hence can afford less – this will be explored in detail below).
When we look at average working hours, we can conclude that Joe in Hong Kong works about an hour a day longer than if he was in Singapore. In Singapore, Joe will enjoy a day more in annual leave but it is important to bear in mind that there are 17 public holidays a year in Hong Kong and just 14 in Singapore.
Also noteworthy is that Joe is much more likely to delegate authority in Singapore (19th) than in Hong Kong (39th). We can only assume that he is likely to be less stressful at work if he is able to delegate some work to his subordinates.
Female participation in the labour work force is higher in Hong Kong than in Singapore, indicating that Hong Kong Joe is less likely to be the sole breadwinner, hence less stressful.
As a family man, Joe is concerned about the well-being of his family. For his children, Joe will be losing sleep over how well they are taught in schools and if they can move up the education ladder. This is where Singapore Joe will have a lot less to worry about.
Quality of primary education is third best globally in Singapore and only 34th best in Hong Kong. Level of secondary enrolment is 17th highest globally in Singapore and tertiary enrolment is 29th. The same benchmark for Hong Kong is only 73rd and 66th respectively. It means that Singapore Joe’s kids are significantly more likely to enjoy secondary and tertiary education. Quality of the overall educational system in Singapore is in fact ranked number one globally.
Singapore Joe can also feel safer about his family. Organised crime is significant less of a problem in Singapore (9th versus 33rd), while the police force in Singapore is the third most reliable in the world (8th for Hong Kong).
To relieve stress from work and family, Joe can purchase modern items of entertainment or engage in other social activities. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the more entertainment Joe can afford, the less stressful he will feel.
Electronic appliances are clearly more affordable in Hong Kong. On the average, it takes 19 working hours for Hong Kong Joe to buy an iPod Nano (8GB) and 27.5 hours for Singapore Joe. A basket of electronic goods (including an electric steam iron and a personal computer among others) costs 5% cheaper in Hong Kong.
Eating out in a very classy restaurant costs about the same in both states (~US$50), while Singapore Joe is expected to pay USD40 more if he decides to stay in a five-star hotel locally for a night as a way to relax.
Although both states face similar issues in traffic congestion, a car is likely to cost about US$17,400 less for Joe in Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong Joe is expected to pay more in tax and fuel for his car.
When it comes to luxury shopping in Singapore ,Joe can expect to save about 8% (the indicator here is a full set of men’s and women’s business wear from head to toe). Judging by social norm, this is more likely to make Singapore Joe’s wife slightly happier than her counterpart in Hong Kong.
In summary, it does look like there is little to distinctly state if Singapore Joe or Hong Kong Joe has a more stressful lifestyle. Singapore Joe has less to worry about the general well-being of his family but is less likely to afford entertainment than Hong Kong Joe. In terms of working conditions, there is very little difference in both states as it looks like Hong Kong Joe is paid slightly more to compensate for slightly longer working hours.
Perhaps we can now sadly admit that Singaporeans have a lifestyle as stressful as our Hong Kong counterparts.
Other articles by Damon Yeo:
About the Author:
Damon is a proud graduate of Nanyang Technological University in 2004 with a degree in Accountancy. He is currently working in the finance department of a UK Bank. He is also a regular contributor at redsports.sg.