Date: May 29 2015
Feature Speaker: Dr. Shusen CHANG
To improve the public understanding and awareness on the relationship between poverty and mental well-being, a series of seminars is held by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, the University of Hong Kong. In the fourth and the last seminar of the series, Dr. Chang presented a spatial analysis on poverty and well-being, which examined the geography of poverty and suicide and their association in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s Gini index, which was an internationally commonly used measure of income disparity, increased from 0.476 in 1991 to 0.537 in 2011 according to the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) based on household income statistics from past censuses. According to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2012 published by the Hong Kong Government, the poverty line in Hong Kong was set based on the idea of relative poverty and data collected from the General Household Survey. Individuals of a household would be defined as living under the poverty line if the household income was below 50% of the median monthly household income.
The geography of poverty can shed light on the causes or correlates of poverty, and can be studied in relation to the inequality in well-being across areas and socioeconomic positions. The study of the geography of poverty could also have implications for resources allocation and the formulation of community-specific poverty alleviation strategies. The data from Hong Kong Censuses in 2006 and 2011 was collected and analyzed. There were 1639 and 1620 large street blocks (LSBs) in 2006 and 2011 respectively, and LSB was used as the area unit in the spatial analysis.
The research findings indicate that there were several poverty clusters i.e. geographic concentration of poor areas in some districts, including Yuen Long, Sai Kung, Tsuen Wan, Wong Tai Sin, Kwun Tong, etc. They show distinct characteristics. For instance, the dependency ratio and the proportions of single parent, lower skill, and unemployment were higher in the north-east of Yuen Long. The proportions of single elderly and new arrival were higher in Wong Tai Sin. Dependency ratio referred to the number of persons aged under 15 and those aged 65 and over per 1 000 persons aged between 15 and 64.
In order to explore the area socio-economic characteristics, factor analysis, based on 13 variables, such as median household income, unemployment rate, population with secondary education or below, was used to identify an area deprivation factor. Poverty was found to be highly correlated with this deprivation factor.
When it came to the geography of suicide in Hong Kong, the suicide data were collected from the Coroner’s Court whereas the population data were collected from Hong Kong Census in 2006. Suicide rates were found to be higher in some of the inner city areas of Hong Kong, such as Sham Shui Po, Kwun Tong and several towns in New Territories. At least a 2-fold difference in areas’ suicide rates was found between the poorest and richest regions. 3-fold differences were found in males aged 10 to 64.
Meanwhile, area characteristics related to social fragmentation, such as single-person households, and unmarried and divorced or separated population were found to be positively correlated with suicide rates. Area characteristics related to socioeconomic deprivation, such as population with manual jobs and median household income were also found to be strongly associated with suicide rate. 83% of variability of suicide rates could be explained by the area characteristics studied.
Overall, there was marked geographic variation in poverty in Hong Kong, as well as the presence of poverty clusters and poor access to resources in some poor areas. It is important to further examine the characteristics of these poverty clusters. There was also marked geographic variation in suicide in Hong Kong. Distinct spatial patterns of suicide were shown – higher suicide rates were found in some densely populated, deprived inner city areas, such as Sham Shui Po. The higher suicide rate was strongly associated with poverty, deprivation and social fragmentation. It was also noted that there was marked geographic and socio-economic inequalities or disparities in suicide across different parts of Hong Kong.
Dr. Chang suggested that the Government should consider the marked geographic variations in the formulation of strategies aiming at alleviating poverty and preventing suicide. The Government should take notice of the marked socioeconomic gradient of suicide and the presence of high suicide risk group, i.e. young and middle-aged men living in deprived areas. It was of paramount importance for the Government to consider the community-specific needs in the formulation of interventions.