Social polarisation and poverty in the global city: The case of Hong Kong

Kim-ming Lee, Hung Wong, Kam Yee LAW

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Unlike the poverty in the developing world which is more likely associated with undevelopment or underdevelopment of industrial capitalism, the new poverty in advanced cities is induced by the development of a new phase of capitalism that goes beyond industrial capitalism and emphasises the role of knowledge, information, global networks and global finance for capital accumulation and profit generation. This new phase of capitalism represents a transformation from country-based economic systems to city-based ones. Hong Kong as a global city is no exception to this trend. Most of the big advanced cities around the globe are witnessing increasing inequalities of income, job opportunities and job securities, and are turning into 'divided' or 'dual' cities. In these divided global cities, a new group of marginalised urban poor or 'underclass' emerges, and new regimes of urban marginality are established. This article is about the poor and the low-income earning marginalised workers in Hong Kong. Following the social polarisation thesis advanced by Sassen, this article will review the current literature and official statistics to portray and examine the trends of poverty and inequalities in Hong Kong. Then we will attempt to explain how low-skilled and less-educated workers are marginalised and trapped in a vicious cycle of low income and poverty. Specifically, we will draw insights from Esping-Andersen's discussion of a post-industrial stratification order, which combines both the Fordist industrial and post-industrial hierarchies in advanced Western countries to analyse the Hong Kong situation. Our article shows that social polarisation, in its narrowest definition of absolute income polarisation and the disappearing middle, does not happen in Hong Kong. However, there are serious problems on income inequality: a low-income-poverty trap against the lower class, and the spatial and economic segregation towards migrant groups. Copyright © 2007 Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
JournalChina Report
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2007


Lee, K.-M., Wong, H., & Law, K.-Y. (2007). Social polarisation and poverty in the global city: The case of Hong Kong. China Report, 43(1), 1-30. doi: 10.1177/000944550604300101


Dive into the research topics of 'Social polarisation and poverty in the global city: The case of Hong Kong'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.