Aging in China

When I started Gen Plus, it was with a singular focus — help 50 plus who want and/or need to find work while helping companies fill their management crisis as many of their managers retire. The picture, as I become more involved in the issues surrounding the employment crisis, is much broader and far scarier.
I’ve been researching China. A fascinating country, a culture so different from the Western world that to understand it, one must learn about the culture as one would a new language. A society that is both agriculturally rooted through rural commuties and far ahead of us in all things consumer and urban.

Yesterday, I touched briefly on Shanghai and the aggressive, incredible consumer bubble that continues to rise in China. There are more societies outside of the US looking at the 50 Plus crisis than in the US and the main reason, in this author’s humble opinion, is that the American Dream, the desire to achieve, has outpaced the family intergenerational connection and resulting sense of social responsibility. China has prematurely aged as a society due to the program of family planning in the 1900’s. Adding to the disruption is the compelling push on consumerism and as a result, the focus on family interconnectness is beginning to show some serious breaks.

In October 2004, a reporter for People’s Daily (China) interviewed associate research fellow Wang Di of Hangzhou Normal Institute and member of the special population aging committee of China Academy of Population on the challenges currently facing China and its aging population.

The full article is a great read (for those as insanely dedicated to the 50 plus demographic as I am), even with some grammatical errors, but in summary, by mid-century, the Chinese population over 60 years of age will equal approximately one quarter of the country’s total population…or 400 million seniors. More than the entire population of the United States.

In the US, there are approximately 78 million Baby Boomers — by 2015, they (we!) will all be in the 50 plus demographic. Adding in the Post World War II retirees, we are looking at a much larger percentage of our population sitting in the 50 plus category. Larger than China’s.

The part of the conversation that interested me, in addition to the shocking stats, centers around the financial concerns of the aging Chinese, the lack of a social safety net, and a realization that even rural seniors will continue to work until they no longer can. For a country with such a strong commitment to family values, Chinese seniors are losing their ties to their children as they leave the rural areas for cosmopolitan careers. All eyes are on what the Chinese government is working on as the senior explosion erupts.

What scares me is that the same pattern has already been in place in the US, and growing since at least the 80’s Yuppie, Me, Me, Me era. That is when all assumptions about where one would live after college graduation changed. With the ease of travel compounded by the communication doors opening up the world through the Internet, the traditional family expectation eroded. We moved away from our homes. In Canada, from Montreal to Toronto, to Vancouver. In the US, from Buffalo to NYC and Boston, from Minneapolis to Chicago and LA.

The world view on aging must recenter and refocus on family responsibility. There has been a slight refocus over the past 5 years, but not enough. Not enough to support our aging brothers and sisters. I also believe that we have a social responsibility that has been ruptured in the US and that we must get it back on track.

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