Unemployment Patterns of Local-Born and Migrant Youth in a Postcolonial Society: A Double Cohort Analysis

Date01 March 2020
Published date01 March 2020
/tmp/tmp-176OE8TOHeZmqM/input 896290ANN
In this study, we use postcolonial and migration litera-
ture to discuss the differences in the labor market par-
ticipation of the local-born and migrant youth
populations in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a British
colony until it was returned to China in 1997. Drawing
on the 1996, 2006, and 2016 Hong Kong Census data,
we use the “double cohort” method to compare how
the birth and migration cohorts are related to the pat-
terns of unemployment in Hong Kong. We find that the
Unemployment birth and migration cohorts are independently related
to the unemployment rate, that they strongly interact
Patterns of
with the likelihood of youth unemployment, and that
migrant youths have benefited from the postcolonial
environment and have lower rates of unemployment.
Local-Born and Specifically, those who are younger and who arrived in
Hong Kong after 1997 are less likely to be unemployed
Migrant Youth than those who are older and resided in Hong Kong
before 1997.
in a Postcolonial Keywords: unemployment; postcolonial society; migrant
youth; local-born youth; Hong Kong
Society: A
Double Cohort Before the Second World War, almost all of
the countries in Asia, Africa, and the
Middle East were European colonies. In the
last 60 years, most of these countries have
claimed independence (Chan and Buckingham
2008). Because they tend to be surrounded by
other countries, these independent nations
have encountered drastic increases in migra-
tion from neighboring countries. At the same
time, the youth unemployment rates in these
countries have been high compared to the
general rates of unemployment. For example,
in November 2017, the youth unemployment
rates in India, Vietnam, and Morocco were
12.9 percent, 7.8 percent, and 29.3 percent,
Kumiko Shibuya is an associate professor in the Faculty
of Social Sciences at the University of Hong Kong. Her
publications have appeared, among others, in American
Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, and
Demography. She is currently completing a project on
changing employment patterns in Japan.
Correspondence: kshibuya@hku.hk
DOI: 10.1177/0002716219896290
ANNALS, AAPSS, 688, March 2020

respectively,1 whereas the general unemployment rates in the same month in
those countries were 3.5 percent, 2 percent, and 10.6 percent, respectively.2
Hong Kong, a former British colony, is no exception. Since 1997, the year
when the city was returned to China, Hong Kong has accepted around 1.5 million
migrants from the mainland. As of this writing, migrants account for about 20
percent of the total population of Hong Kong (O’Neill 2017). In November 2018,
the youth unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, whereas the total unemployment
rate in 2016 was only 2.9 percent.3 Commentators have suggested that the influx
of migrants has created stiff competition for work among local residents and
contributed to the high rates of youth unemployment in Hong Kong (Lin 2017).
Members of the public and local politicians believe that the high rates of youth
unemployment have led to social unrest, including the 2014 large-scale protest
now known as the Umbrella Movement (O’Neill 2017) and a series of mass dem-
onstrations triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance
amendment bill in 2019. Overall, public opinion in Hong Kong suggests that
youth unemployment poses a significant threat to sustained socioeconomic
growth and social stability.
It is against this backdrop that we compare the changes in the patterns of
unemployment among local-born and migrant youths before and after Hong
Kong’s return to China in 1997. We also draw on two unrelated strands of
literature—the postcolonial identity literature and migrant youth unemployment
literature—to guide our discussion.
We use the postcolonial perspective on identity (i.e., that group identity is a
product of the colonial past situated within the current political and social context
of the postcolonial society) to explain how identity politics has shaped the unem-
ployment patterns of local-born and migrant youths. To explore this topic, we
draw on the literature on postcolonial identity and examine how the rigidity of
group boundaries and the policies of postcolonial governments affect migrant
employment. We also draw on the literature on migrant youth unemployment
and examine whether the birth cohort and migration cohort are related to
employment. The integration of these two bodies of literature helps us to explain
the unemployment patterns among local and migrant youths in other postcolonial
societies in Asia and other continents. Given that most of the countries in Asia,
the Middle East, and Africa are postcolonial societies, our findings can help to
disentangle the factors affecting youth employment in these different societies.
Having returned to China in 1997, Hong Kong is treated as a postcolonial soci-
ety by many researchers. Under the principle of “one country, two systems,” Hong
Kong has retained control over its administrative legal, economic, and financial
Hua Guo is a research associate of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia Pacific Studies at the
Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests are in migration, public opinions, and
social policies in Hong Kong and mainland China. He has published in Social Science
Research, the Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, and the Journal of Asian Public Policy.
Eric Fong is the Chair Professor of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong. He is also the

leader of the Research Cluster on Contemporary China in the Faculty of Social Sciences. He
publishes widely on race and ethnic residential patterns and immigration. His latest book,
coauthored with Brent Berry, is Immigration and the City (Polity 2017).

matters, including trade relations with foreign countries. In our analyses, we com-
bine the census data from 1996, 2011, and 2016 to examine the unemployment
patterns among local-born and migrant youths. Our findings show that migrant
youths have benefited from the postcolonial environment and have lower rates of
Literature Review
Identity in postcolonial society
Most countries in the world were colonies at some stage in their history.
Numerous studies have provided useful insights into the identity formation and
identity politics in postcolonial societies, whereas other studies have shed light on
the nature and emergence of postcolonial identity (Berry and Rees 1969; Bhabha
2012; Cai, Fink, and Xie 2012; Chen, Lu, and Zhong 2012; Ogbu 2008). However,
to date, no study has explored the relationship between postcolonial identity and
the labor market participation of local-born and migrant youths.
Postcolonial literature has relied heavily on the experiences of the emergent
identities in the postcolonial societies of South Asia and Africa. Some have sug-
gested that this discussion emerged from Gramsci’s classification of “inferior
rank” or “subordinated” subaltern groups (Gandhi 1998). Given that the litera-
ture on subalternity has focused on the relationship between “dominance and
subordination,” the research on postcolonial identity has emphasized being vic-
timized and oppressed during the colonial period as influences on the formation
of postcolonial identity (Berry and Rees 1969; Heckathorn 2007; Scott 2000).
This approach is reflected in Said’s (2006) classic work on Orientalism, which
forcefully criticizes how the West has wrongly perceived the cultures and peoples
of the Middle East. According to Said (2006), the West represents the one-sided
views and oppressive political power of the colonizer. His work paved the way for
understanding postcolonial identity as a product of the past experiences of the
colonized and a colonized country’s current relationship with the former colo-
nizer. In other words, postcolonial identity can be regarded as a product of the
interpretations of the collective memory of the past within the current political
and social contexts. Thus, postcolonial identity is usually characterized by factors
such as hybridity, mimicry, and ambivalence (Abdul-Quader et al. 2006; Bhabha
2012; Ogbu 2008).
Furthermore, to recapture the significance of the local in a postcolonial con-
text, the discourse of postcolonial identity has tended to emphasize “differences”
rather than “diversity” (Bhabha 2012) because the emphasis on differences opens
social and political spaces for the local population to survive in the fragile postco-
lonial environment (Abdul-Quader et al. 2006). Researchers commonly highlight
the unique, hybrid nature of identity to stress the differences within postcolonial
societies (Puri 2004). The emphasis on differences suggests that the group
boundaries are rigid and that individuals who do not share these hybrid charac-
teristics are not considered to be group members (Wimmer 2008). In line with

this, migrants who share different lifestyles and speak the local language with an
accent can become targets of discrimination.
Despite the clear group boundaries that differentiate local residents from oth-
ers within...

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