China's new plan to encourage children to live with parents met with resistance

Elderly women sit at a park in downtown Shanghai on March 16, 2012.
PHOTO: Reuters file

The Chinese government has unveiled a controversial new measure encouraging adult children to live with or near their parents in its latest attempt to deal with an ageing society.

Under the measure, authorities would roll out preferential policies for participants covering housing and the cost of utilities to encourage more families to move in with ageing parents or stay nearby to provide better care, according to a detailed measure on population ageing issued by the State Council on Wednesday.

Listed as one of over 20 methods to tackle what is considered a major threat to China's future, the measure, without specifying the incentives, has been criticised as many found it unrealistic amid high property prices in the cities and few jobs in rural regions.

Official data suggested that more than 100 million people aged 60 and above are living alone or with their spouses only. Many of them are known as "left-behind elderly" in rural areas, where the social security system is poorer, as working-age individuals move away to work in urban areas.

"Can I find a job near my parents?" asked one user on Weibo.

"Of course I'd like to do that. But this doesn't depend on me. It depends on property prices," another said. Chinese society is ageing faster than almost any other country in the world due to longer life expectancy and falling birth rates.

According to China's population census conducted at the end of 2020, 264 million, or 18.7 per cent, of its 1.4 billion population were aged 60 and above. Meanwhile, families have become much smaller.

The average number of people living in a household has dropped to 2.6, down from 3.1 in 2010.

Professor Zhu Qin, from the Centre for Population and Development Policy Studies at Fudan University, said the decline in household size was driven by the soaring number of senior citizens now living on their own.

In Shanghai, eastern China, where the percentage of senior citizens is the second highest among all provinces and municipalities in China, more than 40 per cent of residents aged 60 and above live independently, Zhu said.

Commenting on the latest guideline, he said: "I think as a suggestion to the public, it's meaningful because elderly support from family members has proved to be of higher quality than any other source, according to our research."

"In the past years local governments have been in a frenzy to build nursing homes but many of the beds are being left idle. What Chinese elderly people commonly seek is comfort from families, so we should focus more on support from communities and family members," he said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.