It is common knowledge that China’s population has been growing rapidly, but increasingly rapid has been the growth of their ageing population. With no signs of this trend subsiding, it’s reasonable to assume that the proportion of elderly citizens in China will only continue to grow as a result of the country’s impressively low mortality rate and recent changes to the “one child policy”, putting pressure on an already stretched health care system. “China’s population has grown substantially over the 3 decades. By 2000, China’s population aged 65 and older was almost 90 million, with the number of elderly predicted to exceed 300 million by 2050.” (Kincannon, He, and West 2005).
At present China is facing a series of challenges due to the ongoing process of rapid growth, industrialisation and urbanisation of Chinese cities and hubs, which has been experienced by all citizens, although elderly can be seen to be most negatively affected. Changes to the way people work and live have weakened traditional Chinese family support networks, with many elderly citizens unable to afford housing in neighbourhood near loved ones. (Jackson, 2010) This presents another issue for Chinese people, steeped in culture; according to the Confucian principle of filial piety, younger generation are expected to care for their elderly parents. Although socioeconomic changes in the 1980s revitalised relative-based care in China, recent increases to the mandatory pension age has made this prospect unviable for many families. (Gu, Dupre, and Liu, 2007). Both of these challenges have led to a decline in intergenerational coresidence which can be viewed as an issue of its own. Rapid urbanisation has caused mass social restructuring, perpetuating the abandonment of long-held communal systems that supported elderly citizens.
From a Human-Centred Design approach I believe that within these challenges faced China has the opportunity to find solutions for these unmet needs. As China experiences social and political shifts there is an opportunity to ideate around the way elderly citizens reside and are cared for. Approaching the solution space from a global perspective, allows for the many models from around the world already showing positive results in trails to be adapted and better accommodate the specific needs of older people. Another opportunity could be to develop contemporary support networks for the elderly, that are closely aligned with China’s unique culture and history around care. Could a system be adopted where extended family members find mutual benefit as carers for elderly members? The last major opportunity I see is questioning how developments in technology can be utilised to connect the elderly with care in new ways. Where distance, class and traditional access to resources are overcome through innovative platforms that are easily accessible and committed to aiding the healthy ageing of Chinese citizens.
Written by Kevin Millingham
Gu D., Dupre M.E., Liu G. 2007, “Characteristics of the Institutionalized and Community-Residing Oldest-Old in China,” Social Science and Medicine, vol. 4, 871-83.
Hewitt D. 2016, China’s Working Age Population To ‘Fall Sharply’ By 2030, International Business Times, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.ibtimes.com/chinas-working-age-population-fall-sharply-2030-adding-concerns-about-economic-growth-2345292>.
Jackson R. 2010, The Aging of China, C.S.I.S, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://csis.org/publication/aging-china>.
Kincannon C.L., He W., West L.A. 2005, “Demography of Aging in China and the United States and the Economic Well-Being of Their Older Populations,” Journal of CrossCultural Gerontology, vol. 3, 243-55.
Population Reference Bureau 2010, China’s Rapidly Aging Population’, Today’s Research on Ageing; Program and Policy Implications, vol. 10, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.prb.org/pdf10/todaysresearchaging20.pdf>.
Sommer J. 2015, Laundry hangs outside housing in Wuhan Hubei province, Business Insider, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.prb.org/pdf10/todaysresearchaging20.pdf>.