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Conference Explores Family Roles in Caring for Elderly, New Pension System Piloted in China

Li Yang, professor and vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, offers a welcome on behalf of the academy. Dec. 9 -- Sessions today at the Conference on Policy Research and Data Needs to Meet the Challenges of Population Aging in Asia, being held in Beijing, explored new research on how families are caring for the elderly, the sharing of resources between generations, and a new pension plan being piloted in China, among other topics.

Presentations included new findings on how families in China are handling the responsibility of caring for aging parents. Research by Xiaoyan Lei of Peking University revealed a division of labor in elder care in China, with oldest sons more likely to provide regular financial support, youngest sons more likely to live with parents, and daughters tending to provide in-kind support.

Another study that looked at 67 villages in China's rural Shandong province, presented by Guangzhou Wang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, included the finding that bedridden parents tended to rely more on sons than on daughters for their care, and considered their sons a more reliable source of support. On the other hand, research presented by Yi Zeng of Peking University found that daughters scored higher on indexes of "filial piety" than sons did, tended to have better emotional relationships with their parents, and spoke with their parents more often, which could help stave off cognitive decline.

Ronald Lee, professor of demography and economics at the University of California, Berkeley, presented data on the degree to which children are transferring resources to their elderly parents and vice versa, and how this varies among nations. Several presentations explored how resources are being transferred between younger and older generations. While the elderly are transferring resources to younger family members in Latin America and many industrialized nations, resources are flowing in the opposite direction in many parts of Asia, with younger family members tending to support elderly ones, said Ronald Lee of the University of California. Younger generations are the main source of old age support in China, noted Xiaoyan Lei in her presentation.

A new pension system currently being piloted -- another potential source of support for China's elderly -- was explored in a presentation by Philip O’Keefe of the World Bank. The new plan, which relies more heavily on the central government and includes individual pension accounts with matching contributions, was also discussed during a roundtable with Chinese policymakers who included Junwu Dang of China's Aging Association, Gang Xu of the Bureau of Social Security, and Zhonge Tan of the Institute of Social Security.

Although many presentations focused on the challenges that aging populations will pose, some noted the contributions elderly citizens make to their families and societies. For example, Lin Tan of the Women's Studies Institute of China shared research on the market value of the unpaid work that elderly women in China perform, noting that it makes a significant contribution to the nation's GDP.

-- Sara Frueh