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The married couples in Hong Kong who live apart (bbc.com)
100 points by mih 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments

I'm from Europe and I also live apart from my long term SO. The reason being our job commutes.

We work in completely opposite parts of town and due to the city lacking fast public transport and her job lacking flextime she has to wake up way earlier than I'm use to if I want to be productive at work and so far we haven't found a middle ground where one doesn't have to compromise too much.

Honestly, remote work would ease a lot of modern urban problems like traffic, rents, relationships, childcare, etc. If only our corporate masters would allow it.

World governments need to start incentivizing employers to offer remote ASAP as infrastructure in the cities is not keeping up with population growth.

I'm from Hong Kong, funnily enough, and what we do with mine is that we switch every 2 years. Renting here is easy (albeit expensive), so we just move to a flat near her work, spend 2 years of me having 3 hours of bus, and then we move near mine, when I am 10 minutes away by foot and she has the 3 hours of commute per day.

What's nice is we can pay the 4000 euros per month of rent. If not we'd find a 2000 euros flat mid-way. The main issue is that hker are either too stingy to rent, or really don't earn enough to spend that much on it. Don't underestimate the number of people here who can't pay rent by sheer ideology, and live at their parents while extremely overpaid compared to Europe.

Also, as a side note, city incentives to companies come either from your salary (via taxes on companies) or your taxes, not the sky, so it's not a solution. Real solutions are sacrifice, like changing job, changing girlfriend or changing flat. Would you ask for the country to give incentive to companies to help you work 300 km apart your gf ? Sometimes life's unfair and the government isn't your mom, you'll have to solve the problem yourself.

Would love to better understand the ideology. Could you elaborate? Is it the "you will build equity through real estate" argument? Are the people living at their parents saving up for a down payment on real estate so they can get in on that game?

"Saving to buy later" is not really a good strategy in Hong Kong, as the increase in market price is faster than what can save. The only option is to get a sharp increase in one's income. This is very disheartening, as the goal post keeps moving.

Just a clarification, 2000 euros is not anywhere close to normal rent in Hong Kong, I pay 900 euro for a place in Sai Ying pun. Also, buses don't take 1.5 hours unless you live in like Tai Mei Tuk.

Where do you live in Sai Ying Pun for 900 eur.

The cheapest place I'm finding is 1500 eur for a really bad studio.


But the problem the article tries to explain is that they live apart because they cannot afford a house at all (both live at their respective parents' and their child spends time with either alternatively).

Sounds like high school.

I feel like housing policy is on the verge of becoming a major public issue, the same way that Healthcare has in the US in the last couple years. It seems to me that it's just gotten too difficult in too many places to find an affordable place to live, and it just doesn't seem sustainable for only high-wage earners to have stable housing.

> it's just gotten too difficult in too many places to find an affordable place to live

Problem is that none of those places are swing states and voting demographics aren't exactly the ones moving to new cities and getting hit by awful rent.

Housing is a national issue, by some estimates we're losing double digit percentages off US GDP to appease NIMBYs https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/opinion/housing-regulatio...

There is a solution - start FINDING remote jobs. These companies will have to bend over backwards (I hate that term) to start offering high paying remote positions as their talent pool leaves looking for better options.

Chicken & egg problem: It's hard to find remote jobs if they're not being offered. We need to incentivize working from home (non-commuting) via tax governmental policy (local, state, federal level in the US). This is critical in order to cut greenhouse gasses and prevent traffic congestion without needing to build expensive new roads.

Thanks but your tip is invalid in most EU regions as the employers here like to "see workers on the plantation" as my ex boss put it.

It’s not invalid. Bosses here also like to see butts in seats.

No one said it was going to be easy. But if it really would make your life better, at least try.

I don't know much about this, but is it possible to get a remote job from a US company?

Do you live in Europe, or in the US? ("I'm from Europe" doesn't specify this.) If you're in the US, this is perfectly understandable: commutes here are hellish because of the gridlock on roads and the lack of decent public transit. But European cities, from what I've seen, are much better because they generally do have good public transit.

>World governments need to start incentivizing employers to offer remote ASAP as infrastructure in the cities is not keeping up with population growth.

A lot of work can't be done remotely. Not everyone works in software. No, what governments need to do is build good infrastructure. Population growth in cities means more tax revenue, so there really isn't a problem here, except with some governments being too wasteful and inefficient and unable to build infrastructure on a budget. This isn't the case everywhere. China sure has no problems building clean and effective subway systems. The ones in Germany and Japan are pretty great too.

>But European cities, from what I've seen, are much better because they generally do have good public transit.

Yes, I live in Europe but not every city here has the public transport infrastructure of London/Berlin or the cycling infrastructure of Amsterdam/Copenhagen so this meme of "everything in Europe is so good" needs to stop. How you perceive the transport system as a tourist is different than when you actually have to live and work somewhere long term.

Sure, the public transport system in my city is probably better than the one in the US but because the city is so widespread and low density(think L.A.), pretty much everyone who doesn't live and work in the city center is commuting by car because otherwise you're looking at hours hopping through slow buses/trams to get somewhere.

>A lot of work can't be done remotely. Not everyone works in software.

Yes, not everyone is a programmer but they aren't the only ones who can work remotely, lots of office jobs can be remote as well if the companies would adjust for that.

>No, what governments need to do is build good infrastructure.

Yes, governments need to build infrastructure, but that stuff is highly costly, funds are limited and it takes a lot of time to build due to politics and NIMBYism whereas switching to remote would be a much faster way to relieve slack on existing infrastructure until more gets build.

Let's assume that 20% of jobs can be done remote, that would free up a lot of traffic, living and office space for the people who have to commute.

>China sure has no problems building clean and effective subway systems. The ones in Germany and Japan are pretty great too.

As opposed to democratic countries, China is an outlier, the party has funds and can build infrastructure wherever it wants without public opposition.

Japan and Germany have build their subways decades ago when the economy was good and infrastructure was cheaper. Lots of cities in Europe, and I assume in the US as well, have grown so much that they are in desperate need of a subway system, but now is a bad time, the economy is crap and infrastructure is expensive.

> the economy is crap and infrastructure is expensive.

The GDP of any single European country has never been as high. The lack of government investment is not due to that.

EU GDP may be high, but gov costs like healthcare for example are now even higher than ever due to an aging population.

Take a look at where your taxes are going where you live.

You'll see it's mostly social services like pensions, umeployment and different kinds of welfare programs so the gov has less money to spend on infrastructure as it has to spend most of it on the aging and often sick and unemployed population with voting rights.

Commutes are generally longer in Europe than the US, in part because people take public transit over driving. (I like mass transit, and commute with it every day. It'd be shorter for me to drive though, sometimes by half).


That really depends on where you live; public transit is better in some places than others.

Also, you're forgetting the stress factor. It doesn't take much mental energy to sit on a train for 30-60 minutes; you just need to make sure you don't miss your stop. Dealing with high-speed traffic for that long takes a mental toll. And on a train, you can read a book, look at your phone, etc.

This won't work, as remote work only affects a tiny percent of all jobs. Most people don't have the option due to the structure of the work; those that do are a tiny percentage of the whole.

I’d think it would strain rather than ease a relationship to be home with your spouse all day every day.

Aside from the financial aspect I've been thinking about the topic of living together with your long term partner recently.

I am re-evaluating the whole concept that couples eventually living together needs to be some kind of long term relationship default or goal. I love my personal space and having an apartment to call my own to come home to. I also love having my boyfriend visit, sometimes for days at a time. I'm not completely against eventually moving in together, but am kind of unsure when or why we usually consider it to be some sort of inevitable goal of a successful relationship that is progressing. Can't we just live separately, enjoy our own space, and see each other whenever we want? Maybe gradually the time we want to spend together will increase, and then nothing is stopping us from doing that. And maybe we'll go through a phase where we want more personal time, and then we'll still have the option to do that, too! This way we could see each other simply because we want to, not because we happen to live in the same apartment and don't really have another option anyway.

Of course this becomes more complicated if the couple chooses to have children, but as someone who intends to stay childfree I guess I just don't see much of an incentive to move in together 'permanently'.

Speaking as someone who intends to have children with my partner, you're basically right about why we want to move in together. That, and it simplifies a lot of the logistics of being in a long-term relationship for us. Right now I have to haul overnight bags to her house and plan how I'm going to get fresh clothes and stuff during the week, because I'm usually spending the night at her place. But when we move in together all my things will be colocated at her place. And I'll be able to cook dinner and help take care of us, which is more difficult when living separately.

We still both recognize the need for personal space within our shared home so we are discussing how we can accomplish that as we also decide how we're going to move in together.

I think the discussion of what your goals are is a critical part of any relationship, and personally as someone who doesn't share your goals I still think it's great that you know what they are and that you've discussed them with your partner. Because the communication is actually what defines a good relationship, and not this stepwise cultural treadmill toward cohabitating and having kids.

Thanks for sharing. Best of luck with your plans and your future move. You're right that discussing this properly is key - I'm not totally against moving in together one day. I'd just really like for it to be a conscious choice on our part, one that is untainted by default cultural expectations and with living apart still being a perfectly valid choice in itself.

I’m not living with my long term partner, out of choice. It has all the benefits you mention, but overall we spend more on some necessities / luxuries. For example, both homes have the same coffee making facilities, toothbrushes etc. The trade off is worth it for us. There are times when we both really appreciate having some space, it’s sometimes nice to be on my own after a long day at work.

Edit: spelling

This is really interesting; if you don't mind me asking, how long have you been together?

One point of tension that I can imagine if I keep going with this kind of dynamic long term is as follows:

We will likely want to spend some longer stretches of time together at some point. Not permanently, but I could imagine maybe living together for a week or so at a time. At that point I can imagine my partner not feeling truly comfortable at my place because it isn't "home". Have you run into this kind of thing? Do either of you care? Do both of your places feel comfortable enough to be "homey", or there any of that slightly uncomfortable sense of being a guest in someone else's house?

This is a convenience afforded to you because A - you have plenty of housing available to you that is affordable and you can live apart and enjoy your space. B- you don't have children C - You don't have a need to combine income so you can have the resources needed to survive

These three options A, B and C do not apply to the majority of the population, even in the United States. Many people in Silicon Valley cannot live like this. They need the help of a partner to pay rent, care for children or simply someone to pool resources with. If there is no way to live together, it becomes a huge blocker to progressing in life. A lot of young people in America are surviving on the pooled resources lifestyle. If its not with a partner, they pool resources with parents.

The first words in my comment were "aside from the financial aspect" and I pointed out that this becomes more complicated if the couple intends to have children.

> I'm not completely against eventually moving in together, but am kind of unsure when or why we usually consider it to be some sort of inevitable goal of a successful relationship that is progressing.

The reason for this is that a successful relationship produces children, and you (and they!) want both parents around.

Some do, but children aren't a requirement for a successful relationship. Regardless, my comment already mentions that "this becomes more complicated if the couple chooses to have children"

> children aren't a requirement for a successful relationship.

This is a very fringe viewpoint, particularly from a historical perspective. The normal view was and is that a relationship with no children is ipso facto a failed relationship. Consider that infertility was one of just a couple of valid reasons to have a Catholic marriage annulled.

Luckily old views of Catholic or any other kind of marriage do not dictate the definition of a successful relationship in the modern age.

As I said, the view that a successful relationship necessarily involves children is still quite current. It's not universal as it was in the past, but it is the overwhelming consensus.

I would love to see some sources for your claim that "the view that a successful relationship necessarily involves children is still quite current" and that "it is the overwhelming consensus."

Anecdotally, in my environment you would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks children are required for a relationship to be successful. Many people _want_ children, but are not deluded enough to believe the entire concept of "a relationship" is a failure without them (nor that it is a success with them).

Thanks in advance for any sources you can point me to.

"Nearly one in 10 married couples in Hong Kong are not living with their spouses."

In the US the figure is 7 percent so it's not unusual for couples to live apart. I'm curious if the embedded study written in Chinese accounts for this.

Yes, but to get a good picture one should account for how large the geographic separation between the couples is and for what reasons? The case of spouses voluntarily living apart on either coasts of the continental USA for career reasons or to save time commuting is quite different from that of a couple within tens of miles of each other, separated involuntarily due to affordability.

Hong Kong is rather small, so living apart would seem less influenced by geographic separation (though you might have couples split in HK and mainland) due to jobs, but might indicate something like what also happens in the US that it’s economically favorable to stay together in a legal sense.

Edit: looks like in HK there is a large component of this which is caused by housing unaffordability —so couples keep living in their respective parents’ homes.

> you might have couples split in HK and mainland

I have no direct knowledge of this, but HKers working in the mainland is common enough that I suspect this could account for quite a lot of split couples.

The problem in Hong-Kong for those couples is that they simply can't afford any kind of house and their parents home are already too cramped without an additional husband or wife.

For those of you who want to get some in-depth statistics about the situation in Hong Kong


We need a 4 day work week with 1 day of mandatory/paid retraining. Unskilled labor can be found anywhere, there are 7.7 billion people on the planet.

By having programs in place for training we can move people into careers where they can grow and move up.

German is moving to a 28hr work week for some workers. https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/07/news/economy/germany-28-hou...

I don't know if we should do mandatory retraining- I would also be down for this to be a "free" day to do things like home projects, rest and recovery if you are mentally/physically ill, do some grocery shopping at a farmers' market, volunteer at a shelter or retirement home...

As long as it's unpaid, sure. Most company allow you do take unpaid leaves and rest and recover.

The 28 hour week with reduced salary combined with the 40 hours with increased salary is what we've always begged the left to do, rather than force a 35 hours to everyone, from the eager 18yo starting in life to the grumpy 65yo complaining about his back.

We need choice and opportunities, not central planning and fake good ideas, like the fixed hour rate was.

So the cost of an apartment is $4000 and medium income for new employees is $10000 according to the article.

Am I missing something - that seems more affordable than most major metropolitan areas. With two incomes that would be more than enough.

> [for] a single unit within a subdivided flat

that's around 100-200 sq. ft.

I could bet $4000 ( $510 USD ) that it is not 100-200 Sq. Feet.

$4000 tends to get you Sub 100 Sq Feet Space.

The numbers you cite are in Hong Kong dollar, so 400 USD for an extremely small flat with no windows, and 1000 USD income, which really is not much when you factor basic necessities.

It's the cost of a bed in a subdivided apartment, not an apartment itself.

Living in those tiny flats (29sqft, 5.5sqft) sounds inhumane. I always thought Hong kong as developed. What is the point of all that development if people have to live like this :(

From personal anecdotal data, it’s also common for HK couples to live even further away; as in different countries for years. I’ve know several families from HK where the husband stayed behind just so his family could leave for western countries before the handover years back

How are the parents affording a 2-bedroom apartment? Is there a massive (relative to what we'd expect) income gap between 50-60 year olds and 20-30 year olds? The article mentioned incomes for the younger demographics, but not the older.

Hong Kong has many public housing estates with greatly reduced rents. It's likely the parents live in one of these. New construction has not at all met demand in recent years, so there's less and less new public housing available for younger generations to try and get. Private housing is, for most, completely out of the question. Living with parents is very common in HK.

Maybe they own it? Or else is there some kind of rent control? Where I live in Berlin it's almost impossible for older people to move, because their rent would probably increase by several times if they've been in the same apartment for a few decades.

>How are the parents affording a 2-bedroom apartment?

Gap between income and housing price are no where near as wide as they are today, where Hong Kong has been Number 1 for the past 10+ years, on a scale that nearly double the 2nd or 3rd City.

Public Housing policy were also much better in their times.

This makes it easier for people to have multiple SO.

I’ll continue saying this until it happens. We need an Elon Musk for housing. Imagine how much capital could be freed up for non rent-seeking purposes if we could fix this broken system. Note I would expect driverless cars to help here as many people may be able to work-commute, and even if you’re not afforded that luxury it may ease housing pressure on those that can not.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by Elon Musk for housing? What kind of solution are you aiming at? Serious question.

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