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In Dark Portrait of China’s Elderly, a Bright Spot


The findings of China’s first major study on the lives of the
nation’s 185 million elderly make for gloomy reading. The results of the
China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study show 22.9% of Chinese
over 60 live in poverty, 38.1% have difficulty completing daily
activities on their own, and 40% show high symptoms of depression.


But speaking at the launch in Beijing on Friday, the leaders of the
study ─ based on a nation-wide survey of 17,708 individuals, and
completed with the help of top academics from around the world ─ said
it’s not all bad news.


One important factor in the disabilities and depression suffered by
many of China’s elderly is trauma experienced in early life: Chinese
people over 60 grew up with famine in the 1950s and the tumult of the
Cultural Revolution, and that leaves a mark.


Today’s working-age population enjoyed far less traumatic childhoods.
They also have higher incomes than their parents did, thanks to greater
participation in China’s 30-year economic boom. Both factors mean their
old age should be better than that of their parents, says John Strauss,
a professor at the University of Southern California and one of the
heads of the study.

的负责人之一、美国南加州大学(University of Southern California)教授施特劳斯(John

China’s poverty levels for the elderly look high relative to the
U.S., where the Census Bureau reports that 8.7% of those over 65 live
below the poverty line. But higher incomes for the elderly in the U.S.
are still financed by large-scale public transfers from the working-age
population. Mr. Strauss says that has costs too. It’s possible to argue
“that from a social welfare point of view, the aged in the U.S. get far
too much in the way of transfers from the young and middle-aged,” he


A shrinking workforce and higher costs of care as China’s population
ages have raised fears about slowing growth. But there’s still time to
head off those problems, says Yaohui Zhao, a professor at Peking
University who led the survey. Policies that support healthy aging would
mitigate the impact on growth, for example by allowing people to work
for longer, said Ms. Zhao.



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