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Health of Elderly, Migration, Future Research Needs Explored at Conference

Xianghong Shirley Wang of Renmin University of China. Researchers presented findings about health among the elderly, their economic well-being, and the impact of migration, along with other topics on Dec. 10 at the Beijing conference on population aging in Asia, hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. A roundtable discussion concluded the conference, exploring areas where future research is needed to aid policymaking.

Among the findings presented by researchers during the Friday sessions:

  • About 90 percent of both men and women age 45 and older in China have some form of health insurance, said researcher Yaohui Zhao from Peking University. Income, not education, is positively related to having insurance for men; the opposite is true for women. Migrants were 16 percent less likely to be insured than non-migrants.
  • About 44 percent of the money sent back to hometowns by migrant workers in China (who number about 200 million) is used to support the workers' parents, said Xianghong Shirley Wang of Renmin University of China. Between 2003 and 2006, the per capita income of rural households receiving support from migrant workers increased much more than those without migrant workers.
  • Poverty is associated with greater age, lack of pensions, poor health, and lower education, said Yan Chen of Peking University. Her research also found that people's likelihood of living in poverty is not affected by how many children they have, but it increases if they do not live with their children.

Robert Hauser (center) moderated a final roundtable that discussed key challenges and next steps for those conducting research on Asias aging population. During the closing roundtable, moderated by Robert Hauser of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, participants discussed take-away points from the conference as well as areas where further work is needed. Hauser raised the possibility that research on models for long-term care might be useful, for example, and Mayling Oey-Gardiner saw the need for more research on cultural differences in caring for the elderly.

Participants also discussed the need to harmonize studies, since many are tailored to local conditions and cultures. James Smith pointed out that his institution, RAND Corp, is working on a project to allow researchers to see and compare the measurement approaches used by various large surveys, such as China's CHARLS survey and India's LASI study. "It's not going to be as hard as it used to be to do cross-national studies," he said.