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Exploring intergenerational relationships and intergenerational programs in Hong Kong: prospects, opportunities, and implications on health policy

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With longer lifespan and improvement in healthcare, Hong Kong is facing the challenge of ageing population as many other countries are: multiple morbidities of the elderly; increasing in medical costs; and increasing demands to health attention of the elderly.  Literature substantially address the strong benefits of intergenerational programmes (IP) in strengthening intergenerational relations through increase of contacts between generations,    yet the notion of “reciprocity exchanges” underlying intergenerational relations raises question of equity and capital exchange. 



Drawing on previous literature, the presentation aims to exam the underlying issues of equity and resources exchange in the provision of intergenerational programs (IP), which are beneficial to intergenerational relations and social inclusion.


Theoretical Framework

Contact Theory

Theorists from contact hypothesis opine equity is pivotal to continuation of relationship.1 Some studies report that attitudes towards ageing can be changed through ageing education and intergenerational experiences. 2,3


Social Exchange theory

Suggestion of contact theory is contradicting to the reality of the old having fewer resources/capital to offer as suggested by social exchange theory.  Because the old have fewer resources and less capital to offer in social exchanges, they have less to bring to the encounter, leading to decreased interaction between the old and young. 4



Anticipating Challenges of Promoting IP in Hong Kong

The first challenge is the “four generations of HK people”5, each with a distinct ethos, as a result of exposure to political factors from World War II until the present day.  The capital (financial and social) for social exchange is different from generation to generation, leading to their varied needs that inevitably shape the intergenerational interplay into complexity.


Generational inequality in terms of wealth and property has drawn the attention of social policy makers.  The younger generation faces many barriers to owning a home, as a result of low salaries and steeply rising housing prices. 6, 7 Study shows they have fewer savings and less stable employment comparing with the older generation (aged 45-64), who are more skilled and experienced and able to accumulate capital through savings and investment.8  Organizing IP, therefore, requires careful identification of the commonalities and varied needs for each generational group.  Sensitivity to this specific cultural context is necessary when trying to draw multiple generations together in activities.


Examining Existing Government Policy

Measures for reducing social exclusion include taking intergenerational social sites into account, i.e., policies regarding environment, architecture, and spatial development in the community.  


  • Economically, the government may consider policies encouraging flexible participation by an ageing workforce.  Market enterprises may also tailor-design goods and services according to the needs, preferences and capacity of people from different generations.  


  • Socially, a policy of life-learning through education will provide opportunities for meaningful contact between generations, increase social and cultural capital of the generations and subsequently benefit their psychological health through social inclusion. 


  • Partnerships between institutions can provide creative settings for intergenerational programs, such as joint running of seniors clubs, university programs, day care centers for seniors and child care development centers.  While the non-ethnic Chinese accounts for 6.4% of HK’s population, the inclusion of underrepresented generations from minority groups will also reap benefits to the harmony of the community. 



The theoretical framework shed lights on what complexity are to create policy environment to accommodate the promotion of IP in HK. The benefits of IP to the physical and psychosocial aspects of the generation groups are evident from international studies, yet, the translation of social inclusion into policy requires collaborative work between the government and different stakeholders at multiple levels. 




1. Allport GW. The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.; 1954.

2. Glass JC, Trent C. Changing ninth-graders’ attitudes toward older persons possibility and persistence through education. Res Aging. 1980;2(4):499–512.

3. Blunk EM, Williams SW. The effects of curriculum on preschool children’s perceptions of the elderly. Educ Gerontol. 1997;23(3):233–341.

4. Bengtson VL, Dowd JJ. Sociological functionalism, exchange theory and life-cycle analysis: a call for more explicit theoretical bridges. Int J Aging Hum Dev. 1981;12(1):55–73.

5. Lui TL. Hong Kong’s four generations. Hong Kong: Step Forward Multi Media Co Ltd.; 2007.

6. Liu Y. The big question for Generation Y: How can we buy a home? South China Morning Post (SCMP) [Internet]. 2013. Available from: http://www.scmp.com/property/hong-kong-china/article/1283473/big-questio...

7. Hong Kong Economic Journal. E J Insight - On the pulse. For some post-90s youth, public housing is like Mark-Six [Internet]. 2014. Available from: http://www.ejinsight.com/20140730-post-90s-youth-view-public-housing-as-...

8. Wu X. Hong Kong’s post-80s generation: profiles and predicaments. Hong Kong: The Centre for Applied Social and Economic Research (CASER), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; 2010.


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