Individuals with a strong sense of belonging are more likely to protest and emigrate if their voices are not heard

Individuals with a strong sense of belonging are more likely to protest and even emigrate if their voices are not heard

Crowds of people fill the street during a protest in Hong Kong

Research authored by the Department's Professor Man-Yee Kan, Dr Lindsay Richards and DPhil student See Pok Loa has investigated the relationship between local identity, participation in social movements, and migration intention, focusing on the context of Hong Kong. 

Published in American Behavioral Scientist, the study indicates that a strong sense of belonging to Hong Kong is associated with a higher level of participation in social movements and a stronger intention to emigrate, associations that hold across the generations.

The paper used data collected in 2021 and 2022 from over 3,000 participants, following mass protests that occurred in Hong Kong in 2019.

The study builds upon economic theory that suggests that consumers respond to a perceived decline in the quality of goods and services in two ways: 'voice' or 'exit'. In other words, consumers either convey their resentment directly and urge organisations or firms to make changes (voice), or they leave (exit).

Whether an individual chooses voice or exit depends on their level of loyalty to the organisation. Strong loyalty may prevent individuals leaving, even where strong dissatisfaction exists. Instead, they may choose to voice their dissatisfaction in the hope of instigating change. However, where these demands are not met, individuals may then choose to leave anyway. 

Applying this framework to a political context, the study found that inhabitants of Hong Kong who had a strong ‘local identity’ – i.e. a loyalty or feeling of belonging to Hong Kong – were more likely to voice their dissatisfaction through participating in protests or social movements. 

However, the heightened political control in Hong Kong meant that the people’s voices were not being heard, something that is also reflected in the study – those with a strong Hong Kong identity were also more likely to consider emigrating. Participation in social movements was therefore a strong push factor to migration, something that was found across all generations. 

The paper concludes:

When civil rights and political freedom are dwindling and public dissatisfaction is high, as in the case of Hong Kong, a local identity is associated with voicing for reforms.

In the case of failed social movements (i.e., when voices are not answered or even penalised), a local identity and previous experiences in voicing out are associated with a higher chance of exit to another country.

Read the full paper here.

Original Publication

Kan, M.-Y., Loa, S. P., & Richards, L. (2023). Generational Differences in Local Identities, Participation in Social Movements, and Migration Intention Among Hong Kong People. American Behavioral Scientist, 0(0).