The literature on the development of global cities suggests that Hong Kong had qualified as a global city by the early 1990s. Using data from the Population Censuses, this paper documents the extent to which the process of social polarisation accompanied Hong Kong's globalisation. As predicted by the global city literature, Hong Kong experienced during the 1990s a process of occupational polarisation and widening income inequality as a result of its transformation from an industrial colony to a producer service-driven global city. The paper outlines the gender dimension in this polarisation process, and how the forces of migration contributed to the reshaping of the social structure so that it now resembles an 'hour-glass'. The findings largely support Sassen's hypotheses regarding the social consequences of global city development, but the paper also highlights the effect of local institutional contexts in mediating the impact of global forces. Copyright © 2004 The Editors of Urban Studies.