In China, the traditional family was a cross-generational amalgam that lived in one household, with children caring for their aged parents. That has been changing for decades now, but the problem is now reaching a crisis point, with elderly in some rural areas keeping a bottle of pesticide at the ready, in case they fall ill and there is no one to care for them.
Today the aging of Chinese society, combined with absent offspring, no social structures for elder care, and the lack of retirement income, add up to an escalating number of old people fending for themselves. They have been dubbed “the empty-nesters.”
Statistics reveal the scope and the urgency of the problem. The China National Committee on Aging said in late 2012 that in the next year those over 60 years of age will exceed 200 million, and by 2050, approximately a third of the population will be elderly, the state-run Xinhua reported.
The growth of China’s senior population segment is twice that of developed countries, according to a report by state mouthpiece People’s Daily. The proportion of elderly to younger people has been skewed by the one-child policy, with fewer young people and more old people compared to other countries.
In 2004 there were 23.4 million empty-nesters whose children were not at home to care for them, as they were usually in another area working , Xinhua said. In January 2013, People’s Daily wrote that of 178 million Chinese over 60 years old, about half are alone.