China's Aging Crisis: Will a Generation of Only Children Care?

China's Aging Crisis: Will a Generation of Only Children Care?

Almost four years ago, I traveled to Shanghai to attend an executive-level conference on aging. At the time, I was operating a home and community-based concierge service and experimenting with technologies in my clients' homes. As an operator and granddaughter, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the technology offerings (or, rather, the lack thereof) for older generations in the US.

I attended the Global Aging Network conference in Shanghai because some of the best operators in home and community-based care, as well as long-term care, were in attendance from countries including Japan, Germany, Australia, and even South Africa. I was on a mission to find out what gerontechnology these countries were using to care for their aging populations.

Beautiful view of Shanghai Skyline at sunrise with people doing Tai Chi. Shanghai China By Patrick Foto adobe spark

While I didn't find the tech I had hoped to discover, I did learn two very important lessons: 

1. I assumed that the Chinese culture's respect for elders would mean that older adults were being cared for in an exceptional manner. I was wrong. China's 4-2-1 family structure (four grandparents, two middle-aged parents and one child) has the potential to be China's economic downfall.

Beyond global trends in urbanization leaving many elders behind, the consequences of the world's most notable family planning policies, China's One-Child Policy, is especially detrimental to grandparents. Introduced in the late 70s and phased out in 2015, the backlash of negative population growth is becoming painstakingly apparent as the Chinese Government attempts to find solutions to care for Elders. 

  • Although the policy has changed to allow for two children per family, there are 106 males per 100 females in China, second only to India.

  • Currently 120 males are born to every 100 females.

  • It will be very difficult for 1/5 of Chinese males to find a spouse.

Don't put American pop culture and tech past this group of Chinese millennials. Tantan (Chinese Tinder) and dating game shows are playing matchmaker - along with Chinese mothers. "Marriage markets" are becoming more common like the weekend gatherings Shanghai's People's Park are becoming more common. Here, mothers bring their child's resume, bank account statements, pictures any other necessary information to make arrangements for their adult child to be set up. 

My point in discussing the dating life of millennials in China is that there will not be enough millennials to care for their loved ones.

2. The second lesson I learned after my assumption that Chinese families cared for their elders was even more distressing. Almost all of the conference attendees were curious about what such a young person would be doing at this conference about aging.

Upon witnessing the constant surprise after my explanation that I have been in the field of aging for several years, I began to ask about why they didn't have young people attending this conference and how many young people work for them. 

A startling pattern emerged: they didn't have much of an answer!

Most of these countries desperately need to build a workforce but have no solid strategy to connect students and education to careers in aging. Most were planning to ramp up their strategy to import talent. I don't know about these other countries, but this is not a solid strategy for the United States.

This realization haunts me to this day and this is why I created Connect The Ages. Upon my return from China, I started rounding up every young professional and leader in aging I could find to solve this. While we have a great deal of work to do, we are making headway before this becomes a crisis in the US. 

If you want to get involved, please reach out. Connect The Ages is based in the US and I will be traveling in Europe late August / September. 

As evidenced below, the adventure didn't stop in Shanghai. I also traveled with my mentor and Mandarin speaking Charlotte-native friend. We were fortunate to catch a rare visibility day on The Great Wall outside of Beijing - the following week China had the worst air quality warning on record.

After taking an overnight coal sleeper train with my North Carolina native Mandarin speaking Colorado transplant friend Virginia to Inner Mongolia. I've never felt so out of place in my life. It was great and I'm glad we opted for the Holiday Inn over other options. We also rode the infamous Mongolian horses on the windy grasslands (where it was so that even the insulated pants we bought at the market couldn't prevent us from borrowing more gear).

#EuroLongevityTour: 10 Countries, 6.5 Weeks, 1 Backpack

#EuroLongevityTour: 10 Countries, 6.5 Weeks, 1 Backpack

The Olympics of Aging (#IAGG2017 Supply & Demand Angle)

The Olympics of Aging (#IAGG2017 Supply & Demand Angle)