Monday, July 29, 2013

One child. Two parents. Four grandparents. Problems.

A few days ago, I blogged here about the time that remains in our lives to visit with the parents.  Triggered by a site called, I wondered, without explicitly saying so, on how much spending time with parents is worked into the bucket list that has become a part of the conversational lingo.

Life has changed, and changed a lot.  Multi-generational families under the same roof is rare anymore.  Even in countries like India.

More so in China where the one-child policy has had quite some intervention in the demographics, which has triggered a whole lot of economic and sociological issues.  It is not uncommon anymore for all the attention of four grandparents and the two parents to be focused on the one kid.  When they live in different towns, then to visit the folks becomes that much more of a logistical issue.

So, of course, leave it to the Chinese government to think of another law to address the growing issue of children not visiting with the parents. Especially the older ones:
A new national statute took effect July 1 mandating that family members attend to the spiritual needs of the elderly and visit them "often" if they live apart.
The "visit your parents" measure is just one component of a multipronged effort by the government and other organizations to remind people to take an active role in their parents' lives.
That is one strange country, and one strange government over there!
Some younger people believe the government's campaign is not all altruistic but instead reflects concern about the demands that a swelling population of seniors and a shrinking group of workers will put on state finances. Authorities, they say, want individuals to bear a significant share of the cost of elder care.
Of course, yes. For a couple of years now, I have had students in my classes think through the looming demographic problem in China, of a rapidly growing older population that has to be supported by a rapidly shrinking percentage of working-age population.  This dependency ratio could make the problems of Western European countries look tame.
Nearly 15% of the country's population — more than 200 million people — is now 60 or older, according to the China Research Center on Aging. Because of increasing life spans and the nation's one-child policy, China is graying rapidly. By 2053, seniors will make up about 35%, or 487 million people, demographers project.
Doesn't it boggle your mind that in forty years, China, as one single country, will have nearly half a billion people 60 years or older?  A population 487 million of 60+ that will exceed the projected 2050 US population of about 440 million!

If the world now thinks that we don't know how to address the public policy pressures related to the senior population, we simply ain't seen nothin' yet!

So, the Chinese government passes a law mandating that children visit with their parents.  As one senior in the news item notes:
"How often is 'often'? Every five days? Every 10 days?" he asked. "What if the boss won't let you take time to go? It's not right to use the law to dictate emotional relations between parents and children, or husbands and wives."
The Chinese government seems to think that it can legislate and change people's behaviors.  At huge costs.  At tremendous human costs.  The Chinese and Russian histories have quite some tragic stories of sociological nightmares created by their governments' attempts to change human behaviors.

When you don't legislate, will conditions be any better?  

As often is the case, it is always tempting to compare China and India.  A while ago, there were news reports of elder abuse in India; I tracked down a report on it:
31% of older persons reported facing abuse. 
More than half of those abused were facing it for more than 4 years and all these were facing multiple
forms of abuse. 
24% older people faced abuse almost daily. 

75% of those who faced abuse lived with family and 69% were owners of the house in which they were
The primary abuser was the son in 56% cases, followed by the daughter-­in-­law with 23% cases
Getting older is looking less and less attractive, right?  Yet again, I am reminded of the animal doctor who took care of my dog--Roberta said, "getting old is not for sissies."  In a few months, the AARP will start hounding me with brochures; what a scary thought!


Ramesh said...

That is a stupid law in China (echoes of the Singapore nanny state). But the problem of the inverted pyramid is acute. There is not much social security in China and therefore the onus of financial support falls on children. One grandson to take care of 6 old people is a huge financial pressure as well. Thankfully medical costs haven't gone insane as in the US, but who knows what will happen in 40 years

Another social consequence has been the over pampered boy (inevitably a son - another problem is the gender skew). Four doting grandparents on a single brat has also led to big social problems.

China has now allowed that if both the husband and wife are single children, they can have two children. Coupled with minorities, rural families etc who are all allowed to have more than one child, only about 35% of the population is subject to this restriction.

Actually China never banned the second child. What it did was to make the second child prohibitively expensive - fine, withdrawal of social benefits, etc.

Sriram Khé said...

A couple of years ago, I was chatting with a Chinese student on campus. She was from a rural part of China. Well, rural as in a small town, not any of the large cities. She was the third child! All daughters at that!

Because the government was ok with the first two, but not the third, the parents were pretty much responsible for all of her expenses ...
a crazy life ... I suppose if we lived long enough, we will see all kinds of craziness ...

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