Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alone, Poor and Sick: A Snapshot of China’s Elderly

by Chen Weijun
The one-child policy is destroying the Chinese social system, based on the family and "filial piety". A nationwide survey shows that the approximately 160 million people over 65 in the country do not have enough money to meet daily expenses, live in poor health and have no family support.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The one-child policy is destroying the entire social system of China. In addition to the approximately 200 million abortions it has caused since its approval (1979), the law is in fact affecting the elderly population, one of the most impressive in the world  in terms of its growth rate and absolute numbers: about 160 million people are over 65 years of age. This is demonstrated by a study carried out by Chinese and Americans researchers: one-third of people over 65 is in poor health because of lack of coverage through the health system, while a quarter live below the poverty line.

The survey covered about 18 thousand people in 28 provinces. The data points out that 65% of the elderly population is likely to live in poverty fopr the rest of their lives, given that the pension system cannot cover costs if it isn't receiving taxes from workers, which in any case are far fewer than the elderly. The China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study is only the first of a series of government studies in the social field: next year studies on the mid-range and work in China will be carried out.

Analysts who have studied the results of the research have reported alarming figures. More than 38% of the elderly "has serious difficulty" in meeting their daily needs; 24% have to integrate their pension with an odd job to make ends meet, 25% live on less than 2,433 Yuan (about 300 EUR) a year, the minimum set by the government to define a pauper.

The healthcare situation is also disastrous. About 33% of respondents suffer from a chronic disease: 54% of these have high blood pressure, while 40% are not even able to diagnose their illness. There are very high rates of psychological symptoms: 48% of women and 32% of men show signs of depression. Added to this is the fact that the availability of access to the medical system is greatly reduced for the elderly who live in big cities. Beijing can only provide 1,100 beds per 10 thousand requests for admission.

The government continues to hope in the traditional "filial piety" taught by Confucianism. The study shows that in fact only 38% of the elderly live with their children, but 60% reside "in the immediate vicinity." According to the Asian culture, the eldest son had to take care of his parents when they get older, while daughters move to their husband's house. This also explains why selective abortions in favor of male babies, continues to grow in China.

In any case, the internal balance seems at breaking point. Of the elderly who do not live with their children, only 53% receive financial support from their relatives since the social and family system seem to have become much more mobile than even just 30 years ago. Professor John Strauss of the University of California points out that another factor also must be taken into consideration: "at the moment those over 65 had 3 or 4 children. The next wave will be to those who have suffered the one-child law, and therefore a lot less hope. "

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