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China - Living Arrangements And Family Support

age aging elderly women percent zeng

Among the elderly, 37.4 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women do not have a surviving spouse. The proportion of those not living with a spouse increases tremendously with age, due to high rates of widowhood at advanced ages (the divorce rate in China is very low). Many more elderly women are widowed than men because of the gender differential in mortality at old ages. The proportion of old men and women living alone is 8.0 and 10.2 percent, respectively. Elderly women are more likely to be widowed and thus live alone. On the other hand, elderly women are economically more dependent. Therefore, the disadvantages of women in marital life and living arrangements are substantially more serious than those of men at old ages (Zeng and George, 2000).

On the basis of 1990 census data, a large majority of old men (68.8 percent) and women (74.8 percent) live with their children ("children" includes grandchildren hereafter). Female elderly persons are more likely to live with their children, because elderly women are more likely to be economically dependent and widowed. Among the elderly who live with offspring, a majority (68.5 percent of men and 80.1 percent of women) live with both children and grandchildren. Multigeneration family households are one of the main living arrangements for the elderly.

In the cultural context of Chinese society, the philosophy regarding the support of one's older parents is quite different from that of modern Western societies. Filiality (xiao) has been one of the cornerstones of Chinese society for thousands of years, and it is still highly valued. The philosophical ideas of filiality include not only respect for older generations but also the responsibility of children to take care of their old parents, which is stated clearly in the Chinese constitution and in laws protecting the rights of elderly persons (Zeng, 1991). Families have been playing, and will continue to play, crucial roles in bearing the costs of caring for the elderly, given limited pensions and health service facilities, especially in rural areas.



CHINA RESEARCH CENTER ON AGING (CRCA). A Data Compilation of the Survey on China's Support Systems for the Elderly. Beijing: Hua Ling Press, 1994.

OGAWA, N. "Aging in China: Demographic Alternatives." Asia-Pacific Population Journal 3, no. 1 (1988): 21–64.

POSTON, D. L., and CHENGRONG, C. D. "The Current and Projected Distribution of the Elderly and Eldercare in the People's Republic of China." Journal of Family Issues 21, no. 6 (2000): 714–732.

UNITED NATIONS. POPULATION DIVISION. World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision Volume 1: Comprehensive Tables. Volume 2: Sex and Age. New York: United Nations, 1999.

ZENG Y. Family Dynamics in China: A Life Table Analysis. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

ZENG Y., and GEORGE, L. "Family Dynamics of 63 Million (in 1990) to More than 330 Million (in 2050) Elders in China." Demographic Research 2, no. 5 (2000).

ZENG Y., and VAUPEL, J. "Impact of Urbanization and Delayed Childbearing on Population Growth and Aging in China." Population and Development Review 15 (1989): 425–445.

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