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The Elderly in China

The population of the elderly (60 or older) in China is about 128 million or one in every ten people, the largest in the world. It is estimated that China could have some 400 million people over 60 years of age by 2050.

China has changed dramatically in recent years, including the changing of family structure. In traditional Chinese society, the elderly used to live with one of their children. But nowadays, more and more young adults are moving out, leaving their elderly parents alone. Many young couples now live with their parents not for family tradition, but rather because they cannot afford to buy a house or rent an apartment. Experts say family-based care is now impractical because most middle-aged children have little time to take care of their parents. So one of the things the elderly have to face nowadays is how to arrange their late years when their families can't take care of them.

A nationwide survey found that about 23 percent of China's seniors over the age of 65 live by themselves. Another survey conducted in Beijing showed that less than 50 percent of elderly women live with their children.

Since more and more elderly have to live alone, homes for the elderly are far from being enough to meet the needs of the elderly. At the end of 1998, Beijing's 289 pension houses could accommodate only 9,924 people or 0.6 percent of the population aged above 60. To meet the needs of the elderly, Beijing will adopt a new regulation this year to encourage private and foreign investment in building "homes for the elderly," said Cheng Yong, director of China National Committee on Ageing (CNCA).

Zhang Wenfan, president of the CNCA, believes that the problems facing China's elderly can be solved through combined efforts from family, the local community, and society as a whole. China's goal is to establish a support network for senior citizens that provides medicare, helps them avoid loneliness through study and entertainment and encourages them to continue serving society after retirement by using their knowledge.

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