Aging Chinese Face a Bleak Picture, Park told WSJ, CNN, SCMP and Science Magazine


IEMS’ Albert Park discussed his landmark survey of the middle-aged and elderly in China entitled The China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), which aims to collect multidisciplinary data, ranging from socio-economics status to health conditions, to be used to support the scientific analysis of China’s ageing issues. The CHARLS baseline study polls a nationally representative sample of more than 17,700 individuals from more than 10,000 households, in 150 counties/districts in 28 of China’s 30 provinces (excluding Tibet). The individuals will be re-interviewed on a biannual basis.

As Prof. Park told the South China Morning Post of the study itself and its potential impact:

The study measures the existence and impact of these social safety nets at both the household and community levels. It interviewed one person per household aged above 45 and their spouses to track the participants into retirement. The researchers will conduct follow-up study every two years, with the second one scheduled to begin this summer.

All raw survey data has been made public on the CHARLS website, which Smith says breaks the tradition in China. “It’s so unusual for a high quality dataset on China to be publicly available. It’s going to have enormous impact,” says Albert Park, one of the study’s principal investigators and an economics professor from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Asked by the Wall Street Journal on the ramifications of China growing old before its time:

China is also unique in encountering a serious problem with aging while still a poor country. “Other countries are old and rich,” said Albert Park, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and another survey leader. “China will be old at a relatively early stage in its development.”

“China’s government is aware of the problem and addressing it aggressively,” said Mr. Park. But there are few easy answers. With a growing number of elderly relying on a shrinking workforce, the existing system of care inside the family appears untenable. But more generous pension and health-care benefits risks putting a sharply increased strain on the public finances.

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