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The road ahead: should Hong Kong develop five pillars of old age protection?

Gigi Lam (Department of Sociology, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Hong Kong, China)

Asian Education and Development Studies

ISSN: 2046-3162

Article publication date: 17 November 2020

Issue publication date: 2 January 2023




This paper demonstrates that Hong Kong currently provides four pillars of old-age protection: a publicly managed and noncontributory social security system (zero pillar), a funded contribution scheme (the second pillar), voluntary personal savings (the third pillar) and informal support, formal social programs and other individual financial assets (the fourth pillar). This paper aims at evaluating current four pillars of old-age protection and unraveling the deep-seated causes underlying the current old-age protection model by tracing a short history from 1965 onward. This paper aims at making recommendations about the current old-age protection model.


The paper analyzes the current four pillars of old age protection. A comprehensive literature review was conducted covering relevant government reports, academics' journal papers and nongovernmental organizations' reports concerning the development of old age protection system from 1965 to the present.


The poverty rate of elderly residents was approximately 44.5% between 2009 and 2018, indicating that the four pillars of old-age protection had been unable to alleviate poverty in the aging population. The development of the current four pillars is attributed to a residual welfare system, the effectiveness of which is further dependent on familial dependence or welfare financialization. However, the reliability of familial dependence is affected by the declining coresidence rate and low fertility rate, whereas welfare financialization not only predominately favors financial institutions but also exacerbates income polarization. Therefore, the University of Hong Kong (2014) introduced an additional pillar of noncontributory social pension and assistance, which generated a contentious debate. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government initiated a public engagement exercise on retirement protection in 2015 to assess public opinion on old-age protection. These consultation exercises were met with broad public disappointment because of the explicit reservations imposed by the government on the proposals.

Practical implications

Although the government's resistant attitude can be attributed to the residual welfare system, pension reform needs to be urgently implemented at three levels, namely strengthening of each pillar, emphasis on the pillar's interrelatedness and introduction of the first pillar.


The poverty of the elderly population is serious in Hong Kong. It is important to solve the deep-seated problems faced by the current old-age protection model. Hence, it comes a critical time to design a sustainable old-age protection model despite the heated discussion on the establishment of a central provident fund and pension system among officials since 1960s.



Lam, G. (2023), "The road ahead: should Hong Kong develop five pillars of old age protection?", Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 113-125.



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