With its population aging at an unprecedented rate, China is beginning to suffer the effects of its one-child policy.
With its population aging at an unprecedented rate, China is beginning to suffer the effects of its one-child policy, which began in the late 1970s. Life expectancy is rising as the number of family members available to care for elders is declining. Adult children are struggling to deal with the complications—and costs—of caring for both their own parents and their in-laws. Already around 185 million Chinese (14 percent of the population) are over age 60, according to government estimates, and over the next two decades, this cohort is expect to more than double. In Shanghai, as many as a quarter of residents are 60 and up.
The result is a budding privately owned nursing home and assisted-living industry. According to one study, there were 27 private nursing homes in the city of Nanjing in 1990, 52 a decade later and 148 by 2009. Other urban areas have seen similar growth, not surprising given that government-run facilities can accommodate only a small percentage of the senior population. This new reality is challenging the Confucian custom of filial piety, the idea that children are responsible for taking care of their parents themselves. Many Chinese regard the notion of outsourcing that job as taboo—a shameful abandonment; nursing homes are a last resort for many. But “the aging problem is approaching so fast that Chinese society and individuals are not fully prepared either psychologically and in terms of material resources,” as a long-term care researcher at Duke University believes, per Shanghai Daily.
Just as these hard realities bump up against custom, China’s blooming middle class is beginning to feel the same pressures as its developed-world counterparts (longer workdays, more career-focused women, etc.). And many have moved away from their parents to pursue careers—giving rise to a proposal to require children to “often visit” or “send respects to” older parents. There will be opportunities for products and services that bridge the divide between what the senior population needs and existing resources—helping the elderly age at home while taking some of the burden off adult children.