report Frederik Balfour and Alfred Cang in a Bloomberg article, excerpted below.
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The latest government census shows 178 million Chinese were over 60 in 2009. That figure could reach 437 million -- one third of the population -- by 2050, the United Nations forecasts. While the elderly were looked after in the past by their children, urbanization and the nation’s one-child policy have eroded the tradition of family care.
“It’s a demographic tsunami,” says Joseph J. Christian, a fellow at the Asia Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, and former DLA Piper partner in Hong Kong, who specializes in senior housing issues in China. “The whole multigenerational housing model has disappeared.”
China’s challenge is similar to that faced by Japan in the 1990s, with one essential difference: China will grow old before it gets rich. With tens of millions of parents left to fend for themselves, the government set up a National Committee on Aging to try to devise a comprehensive strategy (CHGE7) to ensure their health and comfort.
The latest five-year plan still gives families primary responsibility for elderly care. Even so, the government is looking to the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and local communities for a more sustainable solution. So far only a handful of companies provide service comparable to the West, and even care like the kind offered by the clinic where Wang Fuchuan lives is relatively rare.
“Elderly health care is in its infancy” in China, says Ninie Wang, founder of Beijing-based Pinetree Senior Care Services, which employs 500 nurses providing in-home support to 20,000 seniors in Beijing.
China has about 38,000 institutions serving the elderly with 2.7 million beds, enough for about 1.6 percent of the population over 60, according to the World Bank. That compares with about 8 percent in developed countries, the bank says.