Elderly people in rural areas need help

China Daily, June 6, 2000

Note by Global Action On Aging.

China Daily was founded in 1980. This newspaper publishes articles aimed at foreigners living in China and at English-speaking Chinese readers. As an official perspective of the Chinese government, China Daily also publishes information from the Chinese authorities.

As economic reforms continue and bank interest rates decrease, the number of farmers joining the national rural pension plan is declining and the operation of the pension fund has become more difficult, said a recent article in the China Economic Times.

The fund will not be able to provide a safety net for Chinese rural residents, who account for over 70 per cent of the total ageing population.

As agriculture industrializes and market-oriented reforms continue, the traditional idea that farmers can rely on their children or land to support them when they get old is no longer valid, said the article.

This year, China's senior citizen population reached 136 million and the number of people over 60 keeps growing.

The population peak will arrive in 2030, when the country's senior citizens will make up one-fourth of the total population.

Thanks to the long tradition of respecting the elderly, family-based support is popular in China, especially in rural regions.

However, more young farmers are now leaving their homes for well-paid jobs in urban areas. Some even settle there. Many older people now have to live alone.

According to an investigation, in the late 1980s, 6.4 per cent of senior citizens in Sichuan Province and 12.7 per cent in Liaoning Province lived alone.

By the end of the 1990s, the number of senior citizens who do not live with their children accounted for nearly one-fifth of the total in the rural regions of Shanghai in East China and South China's Guangdong Province.

Establishing a reliable social security system is necessary because for the elderly in rural areas they do not enjoy subsidized medicare and have no stable income.

Although land is usually considered as the last guarantee of life for old farmers, income from tilling the land is often not enough to support them because of the low price of agricultural products and higher costs of growing. But they cannot sell their farmland because it is forbidden in China.

According to China Statistical Annual Report, the proportion of farmers' income from agricultural produce has dropped from 91.5 per cent in 1978 to 57.2 per cent in 1998.

Today, income earned from industrial and service sector accounts for nearly 40 per cent of farmers' total family income.

Therefore, old farmers can no longer feed themselves by depending on the land. A comprehensive insurance plan run by the government should protect older farmers in their later years.

Despite economic disparities between urban and rural areas that make it difficult to popularize old-age pension insurance among rural labourers, 80 million farmers joined the State pension scheme by 1999.

The rural old-age pension system was introduced in 1991 and operates on a voluntary basis. Farmers contribute more than 50 per cent of the payments.

Unfortunately, farmers in destitute regions cannot afford to join the insurance plan. The tradition of sons supporting their aged parents is still the only available form of social welfare.

About 70 per cent of the rural elderly live with their children in poorer regions.

Elderly people without children are supported by local collective economy with food, clothing, lodging, medical care and funeral expenses.

Their quality of life largely depends on local economic conditions.

As for commercial insurance, it will be difficult to sell in rural areas because of inaccessible transportation and sparse population.


Global Action on Aging
PO Box 20022, New York, NY 10025
Phone: +1 (212) 557-3163 - Fax: +1 (212) 557-3164
Email: globalaging@globalaging.org


We welcome comments and suggestions about this site. Please send us your name for our postal and electronic mailing lists.