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The housing generations

Chinese skyscrapers

Chinese skyscrapers

6 May 2008

Ray Forrest, Misa Izuhara and Xiaouhui Zhong from the Centre for East Asian Studies and the School for Policy Studies explore the changing housing landscape in three East Asian regions – Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Rising rates of home ownership, volatile property markets, increasingly deregulated financial systems, and changing social norms have combined to produce important new ingredients in the shaping of advantage and opportunity in contemporary societies. Ray Forrest, Misa Izuhara and Xiaouhui Zhong from the Centre for East Asian Studies and the School for Policy Studies are exploring these processes in three East Asian regions – Japan, China and Hong Kong.

More and more people own their homes; financial deregulation has made it easier to borrow, property values have risen rapidly and patterns of social behaviour have changed. Government policies have also favoured some groups more than others. The combination of these factors has created winners and losers across a number of social groups. Some generations are considerably more asset-rich than others, and within generations housing wealth is very unevenly distributed. For most households the dwelling, or the land on which it sits, is their main store of wealth. This wealth creates a platform of opportunity and advantage which can be deployed in various ways within and across generations.

The re-emergence of China has seen a new, and typically younger, group of the housing-equity-rich

Such growth of home ownership, and the potential wealth accumulation associated with it, have been particularly important factors in the social transformations that have occurred in East Asia over the past decades. The pace of economic development has often produced extraordinary rates of house price inflation in many of its major cities. While the Asian financial crisis saw a widespread slump in property values and a slow and uneven recovery, certain cohorts had already accumulated substantial equity. Others, particularly in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, found themselves the victims of bad timing in terms of property purchase. The re-emergence of China onto the world stage and its rapid urban development has seen the emergence of a new, and typically younger, group of the housing-equity-rich. This process has added to social tensions within Chinese cities and the marked divisions between rural and urban areas.

This research aims to break away from a view of housing wealth in terms of atomised individuals or households, and will examine how its distribution affects relationships and opportunities within families. The underlying assumption is that in different societies this wealth is demographically distributed in different ways. Stated simply, in Japan it is the older generation that has benefited the most; in Hong Kong it is the later baby boomers; and in mainland China it is more likely to be the thirty-somethings. This reflects different patterns of economic and social change, and it will affect the nature of financial and other forms of assistance within families across the generations. In Japan, the flow of assistance is more likely to be from old to young; in China from young to old; and in Hong Kong, the asset-rich may sit between an older and younger generation that have experienced very different social and economic environments. These assumptions and their implications are being tested in the research currently being undertaken in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo. It is challenging and intensive work which requires detailed interviews with members of three generations within the same family. Results from this phase of the project will emerge in the middle of 2008.


Miss Xiaouhui Zhong, Professor Raymond Forrest, Dr Misa Izuhara / School for Policy Studies


This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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