Expat women spurning Hong Kong’s long working hours and high cost of living: survey

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Hong Kong has become significantly less popular with expat women in the past year because of gruelling work hours, a new survey suggests.

In a female expat satisfaction survey by expatriate networking website InterNations, the city has fallen from 12th to 29th place in the rankings.

Participants were asked to rate their countries of residence on 43 factors including work-life balance, taxation, job satisfaction, their financial situation as well as political and economic stability.

Hong Kong ranked a dismal 53rd out of 191 countries or jurisdictions in the work-life balance category, with only 5 per cent of expat women saying they were completely satisfied in this area, compared with an average of 17 per cent worldwide.

Another negative factor was the city’s high cost of living, with 72 per cent of women polled suggesting Hong Kong was too expensive.

The city has the longest working hours in the world, with employees typically clocking more than 50 hours per week, according to a 2016 survey by Swiss investment bank UBS.

A spokeswoman for InterNations said most female expats surveyed in Hong Kong were increasingly unhappy with their lifestyle.

“Overall, Hong Kong does not perform well among women abroad”, she said. “Despite pretty good results in both the ‘job and career’ and the ‘job security’ subcategories – both of which the city placed 12th overall – Hong Kong is let down by its performance in the work-life balance subcategory.”

Marcy LaRont, president of the American Women’s Association in Hong Kong, said the results of the survey were “not a surprise”, but she thought they could be partly explained by increasing numbers of “trailing spouses” – women who follow their husbands to a new country because of work – facing financial pressure to find employment too.

LaRont said: “Many expat husbands travel a lot, adding extra burden to the balance of family life, especially if there are kids.”

But Helen Bannigan, a 53-year-old American who owns a global public relations business and who lives in Sai Kung with her family, said the survey results did not reflect her own positive experience of living in Hong Kong.

“I love Hong Kong,” she said. “If you’re happy to live in some of the more traditional ‘gritty’ neighbourhoods, and really experience the local flavour of eating in casual restaurants, it’s not so expensive. But many expats won’t live that lifestyle.”

Luxembourg ranked first in the InterNations’ Expat Insider survey, followed by Taiwan and Germany. Greece came in last for both male and female expats. Some 6,000 women around the world were polled online. The results were released on International Women’s Day on March 8.

The latest findings contrast with a survey of 10,000 women last year by HSBC bank, which found that expat women considered Hong Kong to be the best place in the world to advance their careers.

But in general, InterNations’ results tally with other data indicating the city’s declining popularity.

Last year figures from the Immigration Department showed that the number of expats from America, Britain and Australia had decreased.

-SCMP