China is feeling the pressure exerted by an elderly population of 143 million, the largest in the world.
According to a report released by the China National Committee on Aging on Thursday, the aging population in China is growing by 3.02 million annually.
China's elderly population is expected to hit 437 million by 2051, when three out of 10 Chinese people will be over 60, said the report.
Li Bengong, a senior official with the committee, said China is facing a surging demand from the elderly population in terms of social welfare and medical service. In 2004, expenditure on social welfare for the elderly population reached 350.2 billion yuan (US$42 billion), up 65.5 percent from 2000. Welfare fees to guarantee life of retired people as well as medical insurance funds also saw large increases. Li admitted that the welfare services can not match the rise in demand. At present, China has 380,000 homes for the elderly with 1.2 million beds. This means every 1,000 elderly people are competing for 8.6 beds, far less than the 50 to 70 beds of developed countries. The Chinese government attaches great importance to this problem and has increased government financial support to social welfare development, especially for elderly people, Li noted.
In 2004, the central financial subsidy to endowment insurance climbed to 52.2 billion yuan (US$6.3 billion).
The pressure of aging population in rural areas is even bigger than that of urban districts. About 85.57 million rural aging population, making up 65.82 percent of the country's total, do not benefit from the country's social welfare system, pensions and adequate medical care.
But China's population officials and experts said on Thursday that an ageing society should not affect the long-established family-planning policy.
Yan Qingchun, deputy director of the committee's general office, attributed expanding aging population mainly to lower birth rate and longer life expectancy.
"It's unreasonable to put all the blame on China's family planning policy, which actually exerted little influence on the ageing population growth," Yan said, added that the national family planning policy covers two thirds of China's population, instead of all of it.
According to the fifth national population census, the life expectancy of the Chinese population reached 71.4 years old in 2000, 2.85 years longer than that in 1990.
"People live longer, which is the main reason for the rise in the number of elderly people," said Yan.
He added that the family planning policy helped reduce China's population in the 1970s. But people's minds change with fast social and economic development. The number of "Dink" (double income with no kids) families is on rise.
Currently, China's population reached 1.3 billion and is expected to hit the peak of 1.465 billion by 2030, posing a great challenge to China's economic and social development, said the report.
China is advocating that "senior citizens live at home and are taken care of by the community". This is fit for China's reality as the family structure of "four parents, one couple and one child" is popular in the country since the one-child-for-one-family policy was introduced, Yan said.
Yan calls for working out an overall development program for services of elderly people and raising more investment in boosting community development.
(Xinhua News Agency February 24, 2006)