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UPDATED: December 17, 2007 NO.51 DEC.20, 2007
An Age-Old Problem

An aging society is defined by the UN as one where 10 percent of its population are aged above 60 years or those 65 years old and above make up 7 percent of the whole population. By this definition, China became an aging society seven years ago.

Currently, China is home to 145 million people aged 60 years and above, accounting for 11 percent of the country's population; and this group is growing at a rate of over 3 percent, meaning the country now has a sharply increasing elderly population.

It is predicted by experts that in the next three decades, China will see its population aged above 60 years exceed 4 billion. This brings with it many problems, including the need for the development of China's old-age care system.

As the birth rate drops and migration changes social dynamics, aging parents of one-child families are now often found living alone. Every year, 140 million young farmers will move into cities, leaving behind a large number of aging parents, and in rural areas, most elderly people are incapable of being financially independent and the social security system there cannot meet their actual needs.

When most Western countries entered their aging period, their per-capita GDP was $5,000-10,000 (today it is about $20,000). However, when China became an aging society, its per-capita GDP was only $1,000. To have so many old people before it becomes a rich country makes the challenge even bigger for China. Seen at the quickest possible increase, the country could see an increase of 1 billion elderly in 12 years. The question needs to be asked: Is it possible for China to increase its pension reserves correspondingly in the same period of time?

A survey issued by Beijing-based Horizon Research Group in 2007 shows that more Chinese citizens, both rural and urban dwellers, worry about their old-age security. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed said that they are very anxious or quite anxious about this problem. Even greater numbers are concerned by the quality of care they might be given as they get older.

The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in October 2007 proposed the objective to ensure all Chinese people to enjoy the right to old-age care. The deadline for this is 2020. To achieve this objective, China will accelerate the establishment of an old-age security system that covers both rural and urban areas and gradually transforming the city-centered security network into one that covers the whole nation. At the same time, in places where conditions allow, the new-type rural old-age insurance system is to be set up, to gradually provide the rural elderly population with basic living security.

Twelve years is a lengthy period of time for an individual, but as far as the development and improvement of the social security system is concerned, it's just a blink. China is faced with an arduous and urgent task, as old-age care is not only a matter of people's livelihood, but it will also exert huge impacts on China's political, economic and social development, and even people's mental state.

More than 2,000 years ago, Mencius, a famous philosopher, said that in an ideal society, everyone would take care of his own seniors and further to others'. Today, under the Chinese Government's efforts to build a harmonious society, to provide help for the elderly to make their golden years happy should be an important part of this lofty ideal.

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