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August 3, 2009

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Survey finds shift in care for elderly

A SURVEY has found that modern Chinese are caring for their elderly relatives in different ways.

The results of a pilot survey for the "China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study" showed 40.1 percent of urban citizens and 32.5 percent of rural residents live only with their spouses.

The survey covered 2,685 people aged 45 and over and their spouse in 48 communities or villages in Gansu and Zhejiang provinces.

However, 43.9 percent of urban people and 49.4 percent of rural people live with their children, according to the results revealed at the Second International Conference on Health and Retirement in China held at Peking University in Beijing last Thursday and Friday.

The survey illustrated the change with the example of Zhao Lanxiang, 79, and her husband. They have lived together in their own home since their retirement - but their three daughters and one son are never far away.

"If we need help, they will come," said Zhao. The couple once worked as railway staff in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

Their eldest daughter, Zhao Qiyun, 58, has retired from a railway hospital. She has one son. In addition to taking care of her grandson, she often visits her parents.

The survey, organized by the National School of Development of Peking University, was conducted from July to September 2008.

Scholars said a more diverse support network was required to care for the elderly due to the increasingly aging population.

The population aged 60 or above now exceeds 153 million in China, accounting for about 11 percent of the total. By 2020, the number will be 248 million, or 17 percent of the total.

Albert Park, a professor with the University of Oxford, said most elderly Chinese currently had more than one child, but with the family planning policy, new families will have fewer children.

The majority of people aged 60 or above live a traditional life, said James Smith, director of the Center for Aging Studies in Asia of RAND Corporation in the United States.

But the trend would change as young parents had one or two children, or in some cases none, he said.


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