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New-age Ideas Needed for Age-old Problems
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Japan is ageing. So, too, is Italy. And China is catching up.

The situation is getting more serious in big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, with one out of five above 60 in the eastern metropolis.

"Shanghai has become an ageing society earlier because the birth rate started to decrease in the 1960s while it was peaking in other cities across the country," said Zuo Xuejin, executive vice-president of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

As China honoured its elderly on the Chongyang Festival (the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar) yesterday, it is becoming evident how large an issue ageing is playing.

"The problem doesn't exist only in Shanghai," Zuo said. "It will happen nationwide soon. It's just a matter of time."

After Shanghai, the places with the fastest-growing elderly populations are Tianjin, Jiangsu Province, Beijing and Zhejiang Province, according to figures the China National Committee on Ageing released in February.

And with Zuo predicting that the percentage of people 65 and over will double to 30 percent in the next two decades, issues surrounding the elderly are demanding more attention.

Many elderly in the cities prefer to live with their children after they retire. In return, they look after their grandchildren, often do all the housework and even subsidize their children to some degree.

But how well are the grandparents cared for? An employee surnamed Zhang at the Yixiang Senior Citizens' Home in Shanghai said not that well, and he's not talking about only institutionalized seniors.

"Young people sometimes squeeze their parents until the last of their strength comes out and neglect them," Zhang said.

Pan Xiumin, 59, observed that some of the younger generation, most of who come from one-child families, are selfish and lazy.

"It worries me a lot," said Pan, who, with her husband, often visits their daughter to do housework.

"We are worried about the future, when we are too old to work for them. But more importantly, who will look after us?"

The desire not to be a burden to their children may be behind the results of a recent survey.

Of 1,285 senior people interviewed, 54.4 percent do not want to live with their children, said Zhou Shangyi, an associate professor of Beijing Normal University, who conducted the research.

Zuo added that it is unrealistic for a working adult to spend all his or her time looking after a disabled elderly relative, especially one over 75. Therefore, he said, society should take more responsibility.

Improvement of the welfare service is essential, by establishing more senior housing and nursing centres to meet the demand, he said.

"Another problem is how to pay for the services," Zuo said. "Adding the cost of nursing to social insurance probably needs to be considered."

The problem is that the contributions by today's workforce still leave the pension fund about 2.5 trillion yuan (US$321.5 billion) short, said Cao Bingliang, vice-director of the China National Committee on Ageing.

What's more, Li Meifen, chief of the Yixing Senior Citizens' Home, said that even though family members may be living in facilities for the elderly, that doesn't mean they don't need care and love.

"People should bear in mind that the disabled elderly still have emotions and feelings," Li said.

"It is a crying shame to hear them say that the social workers here treat them better than their own children."

(China Daily October 31, 2006)

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