Currently, China has the largest population in the world of people more than 65 years of age (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014).
China has become an aging society and that new status has brought along a need for economic support and elderly care. To better understand the aging process in China, a research project called The China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) was launched (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). As the course textbook detailed, longitudinal studies allow for researchers to follow trends and make implications from data gathered over long periods of times (Quadagno, 2018).
Still, there remain several disadvantages to these kinds of studies: they are costly and, because subjects are usually lost over time, are likely to have biases (Quadagno, 2018). CHARLS in particular evaluates economic, social, health, and family circumstances for Chinas older residents (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). China has several interesting trends among their elderly population which offer an in-depth look at their age norms and association to stereotypes. A large majority of the Chineses elderly populace complain of body pain, depressive symptoms, and cognitive deficits (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). Women experience all of those grievances more often than men (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). Their health in their old age seems to agree with basic stereotypes of older people being in pain, sad or lonely, and not as mentally apt.
Most of the older Chinese population live in rural areas where they work until they are no longer physically able to (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). As such, retirement is an uncommon reality for most Chinese.
Thus, the current support ratio between workers and retirees is quite low despite Chinas population being largely composed of elders (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). The commonness of health insurance is a relatively new development in China. Until 2003, only the employees in the city were covered medically, which left a large proportion of the Chinese population without health insurance (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). The implementation of New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS) in 2003 was designed to cover citizens who lived in rural areas (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). Moreover, in 2008, the Urban Resident Medical Insurance was employed to insure non-workers (children and the elderly) (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). Now, 93% of Chinese 45 years and older have health insurance (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014).
Family has been the traditional source of financial help and physical care for the elderly in China (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). In recent years, this arrangement has been facing challenges because of the regression in fertility rate and migration of adult children out of China (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014). As a result, the elderly population will be progressively disconnected from their children. In terms of attitudes about aging, the older Chinese population are more likely to have a positive attitude toward aging if they know they are not a burden to their family or society and would be able to be taken care of in their old age (Bai, Lai, & Guo, 2016). Although a potential resolution is to migrate parents out with their children, health insurance is not often movable which would add further expense to an already poor population. Moreover, as the textbook discusses, elderly individuals have a harder time migrating away from their home because they already have so many ties (Quadagno, 2018). Another solution, which the Chinese government is working to instill, is community elderly services that allow the elderly people to remain independent from their children as long as possible (Smith, Strauss, & Zhao, 2014).
In comparison to China where one-quarter of people older than 65 years continue to work (primarily in agriculture), only one-eighth of the older population in the United States work after 65 years of age (Kincannon, He, & West). While those no longer working in China rely primarily on their families for support, the elderly in the U.S. are more likely to live
independently from their families and be financially supported by government-sponsored pension or social security (Kincannon, He, & West). Unlike the United States where nearly all people receive pension, a retirement pension in China is only common among urban residents and men (Kincannon, He, & West). As China works to adapt to its aging population, there will be more research and studies available to explore these very important yet complex questions about what aging is like for the Chinese population and how they plan to care for their elderly effectively.