Facts About the Elderly in China

How Will China Handle Its Population Growing Old?

Portrait of old farmer smiling, China
Portrait of old farmer smiling, China. Getty Images/Matteo Colombo

Westerners often hear about how much regard the Chinese have for the elderly, but as China grows old, a number of challenges potentially await the emerging super power. With this review of the elderly in China, better your understanding of how old people are treated in the country and the impact of a rapidly aging population there.

Statistics About the Aging Population 

The population of the elderly (60 or older) in China is about 128 million, or one in every 10 people.

By some estimates, that puts China's sheer number of senior citizens at the largest in the world. It is estimated that China could have up to 400 million people over 60 years of age by the year 2050.

But how will China address its masses of senior citizens? The country has changed dramatically in recent years. This includes the changing of its family structure. In traditional Chinese society, the elderly used to live with one of their children. But today more and more young adults are moving out, leaving their elderly parents alone. This means that the new generation of elderly people may not have family members to tend to their needs, as young people in the country traditionally have. 

On the other hand, many young couples are living with their parents because of economic factors and not because of tradition. These young adults simply cannot afford to buy a house of their own 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 in 21st century China is how to live out their twilight years when their families can't take care of them.

Older people living alone is not an anomaly in China.

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 fewer than 50 percent of elderly women live with their children.

Housing for the Elderly

Since more and more elderly live alone, homes for the elderly aren't enough to meet their needs. One report found that Beijing's 289 pension houses could accommodate only 9,924 people or 0.6 percent of the population above age 60. To better serve the elderly, Beijing adopted regulations to encourage private and foreign investment in "homes for the elderly." 

Some officials believe 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 medical care and helps them avoid loneliness through scholarly pursuits and entertainment. The network would also encourage senior citizens to continue serving society after retirement age by using the knowledge they've acquired over the years.

As China's population ages, the nation will also have to take a hard look at how this shift will affect its ability to compete on the world stage.