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How to solve ageing population problem in China

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China's elderly are poor, sick and
depressed in alarming numbers, according to the first large-scale survey
of those over 60, an immense challenge for Beijing and one of the
greatest long-term vulnerabilities of the Chinese economy.

针对中国60岁以上人口的首次大规模调查显示,中国贫穷、多病且精神抑郁的老年人数量多得惊人,这既是对中国政府的巨大挑战,也是中国经济最大的长期性弱点之一。


The survey of living conditions for China's 185 million elderly
paints a bleak picture that defies the efforts of the government to
build what it calls a 'harmonious society,' one dedicated to human
welfare rather than simply economic growth. Of the generation that built
China's economic boom, 22.9%─or 42.4 million─live in poverty with
consumption of less than 3,200 yuan a year ($522).

对中国1.85亿老年人生存状况的这一调查勾勒出了一幅黯淡的画面,这使中国政府构建所谓“和谐社会”的努力受到了挑战。中国政府的这一努力致力于实现民
生幸福,而不仅仅是经济增长。在创造了中国的经济繁荣的那一代人中,有22.9%(4,240万)的人生活贫困,年消费额不足人民币3,200元。


The fear of being old and poor, which prompts many Chinese to stash
away their earnings, also cuts against another of Beijing's priorities:
to rebalance the economy toward stronger consumption.

出于对老来贫的担心,许多中国人都将自己相当一部分收入储存起来,这使中国政府实现其另一项优先目标的努力受到了挑战。这一目标就是提高消费对经济增长的贡献率,从而使中国经济逐步实现再平衡。


The survey, led by Chinese and international academics, covered
17,708 individuals across 28 of China's 31 provinces and was partly
funded by the Chinese government through a science foundation. While
careful to credit the government with progress on expanding pension and
health-care coverage, it also showed that physical disability and
mental-health problems are widespread: Of those surveyed, 38.1% reported
difficulty with daily activities and 40% showed high symptoms of
depression.

这项由中国和国际学者牵头进行的调查访问了中国31个省份中28个省份的17,708人,其部分资金由中国政府通过一个科学基金提供。调查报告虽然没忘提
及中国政府在扩大养老和医疗保险覆盖面方面所取得的进展,但它还是显示,中国老年人中普遍存在身体残疾和精神健康问题。在接受调查的人中,38.1%的人
说自己在日常行动方面存在困难,40%的人表现出高度的抑郁症症状。


International comparisons are made difficult by definitional issues.
But rates of poverty, disability and depression in China all appear
relatively high. The poverty rate for Americans aged over 65 is 8.7%
according to the Census Bureau. The U.S. Health and Retirement Study
found that 26% to 27% of elderly Americans had a disability, and
depression rates are also markedly lower than in China.

由于定义方面的问题,难以将中国的上述调查结果与其他国家的情况做横向比较。但中国老龄人口的贫困率、残疾率和精神抑郁率似乎都处于相对较高的水平。美国
人口普查局(Census Bureau)的数据显示,美国65岁以上老年人口的贫困率为8.7%。美国健康与退休研究项目(Health and
Retirement Study)发现,美国26%至27%的老年人存在残疾,美国老年人的精神抑郁率也明显低于中国的水平。


John Strauss, a professor at the University of Southern California
and one of the leaders of the project, pointed to China's relatively low
level of development as part of the explanation for higher poverty
levels there. 'We need to remember that China is still a developing
economy, it is not yet a high-income country,' he said.

美国南加州大学(University of Southern California)教授施特劳斯(John
Strauss)是中国上述调查项目的牵头人之一,他认为中国相对低的发达程度是造成中国老年人贫困率较高的原因之一。他说,我们需要记住,中国依然是一
个发展中国家,它还不是一个高收入国家。


An ageing population means the problems are compounded. The number of
old people for every hundred working-age members of the population─known
as the dependency ratio─will rise from 11 in 2010 to 42 in 2050,
according to projections from the United Nations.

中国人口的老龄化程度不断提高使中国的老年人贫困问题变得更加复杂。据联合国预测,中国的赡养比率(即每100名工作年龄人口需要赡养的老人数)将从2010年的11上升至2050年的42。


Other countries will also see a rise in the dependency ratio. But the
pace of ageing in China is particularly marked─a consequence of the
one-child policy.

虽然其他国家的赡养比率也会不断提高,但中国由于独生子女政策的影响,其人口老龄化的速度尤其快。


The survey finds that 88.7% of the elderly who require assistance
with daily activities receive it from family members. But the one-child
policy and the migration of many young people to China's cities for work
threaten to erode the traditional approach of children caring for
elderly parents.

此次调查发现,在中国日常行动需要人帮助的老年人中,88.7%的人是从家人处获得帮助的。但由于中国的独生子女政策以及许多中国年轻人离开家乡前往城市寻找工作,有可能使中国由子女照顾年迈父母的传统养老方式受到威胁。


China is also unique in encountering a serious problem with ageing
while still a poor country. 'Other countries are old and rich,' said
Albert Park, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and
Technology and another survey leader. 'China will be old at a relatively
early stage in its development.'

中国还面临着独特的未富先老问题。此项调查的另一位牵头人、香港科技大学教授朴之水(Albert Park)说,其他国家是老而且富,而中国则将在尚未成为发达国家时就进入老龄化社会。


Yu Baihui is one of many who have fallen through the cracks. Aged 73,
Ms. Yu lives with her husband in a dilapidated house in Rensha, a town
of 31,000 on the edges of Chongqing in western China. Like many of
China's impoverished elderly, she is a former farmer, too old to benefit
from the booming economythat has swept the younger generation into
China's factories,and passed over by a benefit system that is skewed in
favor of urbanites.

于百惠(音)就是众多未富先老者中的一员。她今年73岁,与丈夫住在重庆郊区仁沙乡一个破破烂烂的房子里。这个乡有人口3.1万。跟中国很多穷困的老年人
一样,于百惠以前也是农民,现在因年迈体衰,无法受益于蓬勃的经济发展。年轻一代纷纷被这股经济浪潮裹挟着进入厂矿企业打工,而老年人则被向城镇人群倾斜
的福利制度所忽略。


'My parents don't have any pension or other allowance,' said Luo
Zhengfeng─Ms. Yu's son, who works selling umbrellas and tour maps in
Chongqing to support his wife, child and ageing parents.

于百惠的儿子罗正峰(音)说,我父母没有养老金,也没有别的津贴。他在重庆卖雨伞和旅游地图,以此来养活妻儿和年迈的父母。


China's turbulent history also appears to have had an impact on the
generation that lived through it. 'China's elderly experienced famine in
the 1950s, and the disturbance of the Cultural Revolution,' said Mr.
Park. 'Those early experiences leave a marked impact on physical and
mental health.'

中国动荡的历史也好像对经历了这段时期的人们产生了影响。朴之水说,中国老一代人经历过上世纪50年代的饥荒和后来文化大革命的骚乱,那些早年的经历给他们身心都留下了印记。


In theory, respect for elders is deeply ingrained in China's culture.
Confucius, China's cultural lodestone who has enjoyed a revival in
popularity as leaders search for new sources of legitimacy, advocated
the honoring of all old people.

按理说,“尊老”是中国文化中根深蒂固的东西。中国文化先师孔子就主张要“上敬老”。在中国领导人寻求新的合法性之际,孔子再度受到追捧。


On a visit to an old people's home in Tianjin in 2009, former
President Hu Jintao echoed those sentiments and set the tone for
government pronouncements on China's aged. 'Respecting and caring for
the elderly is not only a Chinese tradition, but also a symbol of
national civilization and progress,' he said.

2009年,时任中国国家主席的胡锦涛到天津某敬老院看望老人时,也对这一传统表示肯定,并且为中国政府在这方面的表态定了基调。他说,尊敬和爱护老人是中华民族的优良传统,也是一个国家文明进步的标志。


Mr. Hu advocated a more inclusive form of development, with expansion
of public pension and health-care coverage. The results of the China
Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study suggest those efforts haven't
so far been sufficient.

胡锦涛主张的是一种更加广泛的发展形式,扩大公共养老金和医疗保险的覆盖面。中国健康与养老追踪调查(China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study)结果显示,这些努力到目前为止都还不够。


Widespread poverty in old age also undermines China's attempt to put
the economy on an even keel, with lower saving and investment and higher
consumption. Despite rapid increases in wages─which rose 14% last year
for workers in the private sector according to official data─ households
remain unwilling to spend. One reason: the need to guard against
poverty in old age. 'I hope the government is stung by conscience and
puts more money into pensions,' said Cecilia Wang, a 30-year-old
translator at a business magazine in Beijing, 'but as they don't we have
to save ourselves.'

中国老年人到了晚年普遍贫困,这一现象也破坏了中国试图以低存款、低投资和高消费来让经济保持平稳的努力。尽管工资收入迅速上涨(官方数据显示民营部门员
工去年涨薪幅度达14%),但中国家庭仍不愿花钱,理由之一是要防止老来贫。北京某商业杂志30岁的翻译Cecilia
Wang说,我希望政府发发善心,给养老金多拨点款;但因为他们不这么做,我们就得自己攒钱。


China has enjoyed some success in expanding the welfare system.
Pension coverage for urban residents has expanded from 155 million in
2003, when Mr. Hu took over, to 304 million in 2012, according to data
from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. Pension
coverage for rural residents has grown even more rapidly. But the
benefits provided by the expanded schemes remain inadequate in many
cases. The survey shows that on average, recipients of the government's
basic rural pension receive just 720 yuan a year.

中国在扩大福利体系方面已经取得了一定的成功。中国人力资源和社会保障部的数据显示,城镇居民的养老金覆盖面从2003年胡锦涛上台时的1.55亿增至
2012年的3.04亿。针对农村人口的养老金覆盖范围扩展速度就更为迅速。但扩大的养老计划所提供的养老金在很多地方仍显不足。那项调查显示,农村老人
平均每年只能领取到政府提供的720元基础养老金。


More than 90% of the elderly population is now covered by health
insurance, but out-of-pocket costs remain high. 'Mom had a stroke last
year, and the hospital charged 18,000 yuan, but we could claim back only
1,000 yuan from insurance,' said Mr. Luo, the Chongqing umbrella
seller. The 17,000 yuan in out-of-pocket costs equaled almost half of
his annual income.

如今,90%以上的中国老年人都有医疗保险,但需要自己实际支付的费用仍很高。在重庆靠卖伞为生的罗正峰说,我母亲去年中风,医药费花了1.8万元,但保险只能报1,000元。这自掏腰包的1.7万元几乎相当于他半年的收入。


'China's government is aware of the problem and addressing it
aggressively,' said Mr. Park. But there are few easy answers. With a
growing number of elderly relying on a shrinking workforce, the existing
system of care inside the family appears untenable. But more generous
pension and health-care benefits risks putting a sharply increased
strain on the public finances.

朴之水说,中国政府意识到了这个问题,正在积极应对。但这个问题几乎没有轻松的解决之道。中国现在有越来越多的老年人依靠不断萎缩的劳动力来赡养,这种靠家人养老的模式似乎看上去已经为继。然而,扩大养老和医疗支出又会让政府面临公共财政压力剧增的风险。

2016-06-23

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