China’s economic miracle has been fuelled by its “demographic dividend”: an unusually high proportion of working age citizens. That population bulge is becoming a problem as it ages. In 2000 there were six workers for every over-60. By 2030, there will be barely two.Other countries are also ageing and have far lower birth rates. But China is the first to face the issue before it has developed – and the shift is two to three times as fast.
“China is unique: she is getting older before she has got rich,” said Wang Dewen, of the World Bank’s China social protection team.
Tens of millions of workers have migrated to the cities, creating an even worse imbalance in rural areas which already suffer low incomes, poor public services and minimal social security.
Most old people there rely on their own labour and their children. China not only needs to support more older people for longer, but to extend support to new parts of society.
A team from Beijing Aeronautics and Astronautics University are trialling a bed that turns into a wheelchair, giving residents more independence, and a robot “dog” to keep them company. “The robot can have simple chats with them, play music and opera, or even dance for them through sound controls. It says ‘It feels so good!’ when they pet it,” said researcher Zhang Guanxin.