The world is growing older and China is among the countries aging the fastest. The demographic profile of its 1.35 billion people has been reshaped by decades of strict population controls that limited many families to one or two children. That, combined with greater longevity, has increased the proportion of seniors in the general population.
In fact, older Chinese are among the fastest-growing population segments in the world. Official figures show that at the end of 2011, there were 185 million Chinese aged 60 or older. Just three years later, by the end of 2014, that number had grown to 212 million, or nearly 16 percent of the population, according to People's Daily.
By 2050, as many as one-third of China's projected population of about 1.5 billion may be 60 or older, a situation so far found only in Japan, a "hyper-aged" nation where 33 percent of people fall into that category. So how are older Chinese doing compared with their counterparts in other countries?
"Moderately," according to the Global AgeWatch Index 2015, a survey released on Wednesday by HelpAge International, a nongovernmental organization. The country "faces significant challenges," but has "made progress on age-friendly policies," the group said in a statement.
Here are two examples from Beijing, the capital, drawn from reports in the Chinese news media: In August, officials announced an ambitious plan to build a large elderly care facility totaling 300,000 square meters, or 3.2-million square feet, in the suburb of Gaobeidian. Also, they said they would privatize most of the city's 215 state-managed facilities, for which waiting lists are long, in the hopes that these can offer better care in the future.
"China, with almost a quarter of the world's older people, is rapidly adapting to be an aging society," HelpAge International said in the statement.
In releasing the survey results, Eduardo Klien, the organization's regional director for East Asia and the Pacific, said that older people need to be valued more, everywhere.
"We need a paradigm shift, from seeing older people solely as vulnerable to seeing this segment of the population as a resource, with skills, capacities, willingness and legitimacy to actively perform in their economies and societies," Mr. Klien said in a statement.
The index used 13 indicators to assess the quality of life in four areas: income security, health, personal capability and enabling environment. HelpAge said its survey looked at the situation of 91 percent of people aged 60 and older around the world — about 901 million people in all.
On the plus side in China, most older people have a sense of personal safety and freedom and are satisfied with public transport, scoring above average for the Asia-Pacific region on all counts, the survey found.
On the minus side, China's elderly are poorer than many of their counterparts in the region, with nearly one in four — twice the regional average — living at the poverty level, according to the survey.
China ranks "moderately" in health, near the regional average for life expectancy and above the regional average for "healthy life expectancy".
Its "enabling environment is good," with lots of places where older adults can get out and socialize, including more than 700,000 cultural centers. In most urban areas in China, older people have free access to public transport, parks and other sites.
Globally, China ranked 52 out of 96 countries, with Switzerland ranking first and Japan, which leads the Asia-Pacific region, eighth. The United States was ninth. After Japan, Thailand ranked second in the Asia-Pacific region (34 in the global index). Third was Vietnam (41), followed by the Philippines (50) and Indonesia (74). At the bottom were Cambodia (80) and Laos (83).