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China's Getting Older

A senior official involved in elderly people's welfare is calling upon all sectors to wake up to the emerging problems China's aging population will face and find solutions to them.

Zhao Baohua, a senior official of China National Committee on Aging, warned that if enough importance was not attached to solving the succession of challenges caused by a rapidly aging population they will become a big obstacle to the pace of China's economic and social development.

He made the remarks during a news conference on Tuesday in Beijing for the launch of Silent Revolution, a wide-ranging documentary about the issue to be screened on CCTV 10 this Friday, Senior Citizens' Day.

Zhao said that problems related to aging would become more obvious in the next decade. The number of Chinese over 60 years old is presently 134 million, accounting for nearly half of that age group in Asia.

According to analysis by China Business Times, thirty-five years ago the ratio of children to elderly people was six to one -- now it is one to two.

Problems associated with graying populations have already become a global headache. In Thailand, more than half are over 30 and the number of people over 60 is set to increase from 6 percent to 9 percent in five year' time. In 20 years elderly people will make up 14 percent of the population, while children will only constitute 12 percent, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Chinese government is now focusing on improving pension and insurance systems to cope with an older population, expected to reach its zenith in 2030, according to the latest report from the State Council's Information Office.

One upside could be new marketing opportunities targeting this growing section of the economy. Products sold to make people healthier and look younger have already started to become more attractive to traders.

An investigation by the China Research Center on Aging showed that 42.8 percent of elderly people in urban districts possess savings and by the end of 2010, the retirement pensions of older Chinese will hit 838.3 billion yuan (US$101 billion).

Most of that capital could pour into the marketplace, but many businesses remain cautious.

"Since the majority of the aged care about their health most, various concoctions promoting vigor sell well," said Wang Shimei, a sales woman at the special counter for middle-aged and elderly people at the Anzhen branch of Beijing's Hualian Mall.

Anti-aging creams, tonics and other aging-related products appear on their counters, whilst new tourism and other services specifically catering to older people have also emerged. However, the quantity, quality and style of products still lag behind those for younger women and children.

Wang also said that some consumers complain about available fashions, which are generally out of date. In a bid to meet the needs of its customers Hualian Mall began to design and make its own garments.

(China Daily October 21, 2004)

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