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Number of Elderly Chinese and Empty Nesters on the Rise

China's society is growing increasingly older as a new survey released on Monday indicates the traditional ways that the elderly support themselves is undergoing rapid change.

According to a survey on China's urban and rural aging persons living status that was undertaken by the National Committee on Aging, the number of pensioners was increasing at 3.2 percent annually. The rate was five times greater than that of the country's entire yearly population growth.

The survey said that as of June 1, 2006, China had 146.57 million citizens aged above 60, accounting for 21.4 percent of the total number of people in that age group worldwide. In addition, China's grey army was equivalent to the total number of pensioners for all of Europe.

The survey revealed that 49.7 percent of elderly persons in urban areas lived in "empty nest" families in 2006, while 50.3 percent stayed with other family members. In rural areas, 38.3 percent of the elderly lived alone, while 61.7 percent resided with family members.

Zhang Kaidi, a China Research Center on Aging research fellow, said in2000, about 41 percent of the elderly lived in empty nests -- homes without other family members. The numbers of empty nesters in both urban and rural areas had increased in recent years, testing the country's ability to provide adequate social insurance and medical services for the elderly.

The survey also indicated the elderly's methods of supporting themselves had undergone dramatic change. It found that 50.3 percent of urban elderly people selected social insurance as their first choice to support themselves in 2006. In 2000, the figure was 23.4 percent. In rural areas, the figure rose from 5.1 percent to 11.8 percent between 2000 to 2006.

"The figures demonstrate that the traditional view on supporting an elderly person's life has gradually changed from being dependent on family members and social insurance, but has also raised a higher criteria for the extension of the social insurance network," a National Committee on Aging official said.

In rural areas, less than 50 percent of elderly persons were covered by medical insurance. In urban areas, the figure was more than 50 percent. It still, however, had a long way to go to fulfill the goal of every pensioner enjoying medical insurance, the official said.

He added the country's pension insurance system, subsistence allowance insurance system, urban medical insurance system and rural new-type cooperative medical system should be increasingly improved. Then, the testamentary insurance, nursing insurance and the mode of supporting the elderly by subsidized housing should be gradually established.

The survey polled 19,947 elderly people in 20 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

Other findings revealed the mental problems of the elderly also deserved attention. In 2000, 20.4 percent of elderly in urban areas disliked making friends. The figure rose to 23 percent in 2006. In rural areas, the figure rose from 26.8 percent to 29.8 percent during the period.

In cities, 18 percent of elderly felt lonely, while the figure in the countryside was 30.9 percent. In urban areas, 2.6 percent contemplated suicide. In the country, it was 4.9 percent.

"The figures demonstrate that great attention should be paid to the spiritual lives of elderly persons," said the National Committee on Aging official. "The whole of society bears the duty to help them vigorously participate in social lives and to build harmonious relations with younger generations."

(Xinhua News Agency December 18, 2007)

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