The generation born in the 1960s is turning old; how will the elderly care sector meet their needs?

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The year of 2020 marks the time for those born in the 1960s to enter old age. Estimates show that beginning in 2022, the new ageing population in China will increase annually by 10 million. But the generation born in the 1960s are quite a different group compared to those born in the 1950s and earlier, because in their lifetime they have experienced enormous economic, social, political and technological reforms and changes which have led directly to some novel needs for this group when they become elderly.

According to a Charity Times‘ report, this generation shares five prominent characteristics: they have consumption power, a willingness to consume, they pursue fashion quality, they have “independent personalities” and are capable of mastering new technologies. These new characteristics have triggered increasing new needs in the healthcare services, technology, fashion products, luxury items, and tourism industries. It is evident that the needs of this generation go beyond basic living necessities, and they care about enjoying their advanced years and keeping a good quality of life.

Despite these distinct needs, the supply end has unfortunately revealed insufficient power. Guo Guifang, a professor at the School of Nursing of Peking University and chairman of the Nursing and Caring Branch of the Chinese Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics, admits that so far there are only about 5,000 geriatric physicians to have received formal professional training across the country, and merely 44,103 qualified elderly caregivers obtained their certifications in 2018.

However, the need for resources and services in the elder care industry is pressing, because the ageing population is growing and the proportion of elderly among the total population has been steadily increasing. Statistics show that from 2000 to 2018, the number of elderly people aged 60 and above rose from 126 million to 249 million. The percentage of elderly within the population rose from 10.2% in 2000 to 17.9% in 2018. Experts assert that the speed of ageing in China will only increase in the following years, and the reason is the fertility pattern in the 1960s. During the three-year famine from 1960-1962 the birth rate was low, and an estimated 14.02 million babies were born in 1960 and 12 million in 1961. But after the disaster, the birth rate entered a stage of high growth, and in 1962 there were 24.51 million newborns, while the number in the following year reached 29.34 million. Hence, the speed of ageing will follow the same pattern, which means that the ageing population in the next few years will increase more rapidly than it has in the recent two or three years.

One notable challenge of the current elderly care industry is the sharp shortage of labour. While the demand side is huge, the supply of professional qualified caregivers is far from adequate. This phenomenon is the result of many factors; the external factors include the lack of resources for nursing trainees and staff, the wage difference in different locations, the types of jobs care workers do and the lack of a market standard in this emerging but fast-growing industry. Facing these difficulties, care workers themselves easily turn their back on the industry. Professor Guo explains that the turnover rate of staff in elderly care organisations is very high, especially in the countryside and small cities. Care workers have their own considerations of getting married and having families, which is absolutely understandable. But so far, the industry has not been able to provide its workers with decent wages, leisure time, job stability and other resources to make their needs met. That is why many care workers after their training actually choose to leave the industry.

Facing this difficult situations, both the government and other organisations have given their responses. In a recent press conference, the head of the National Development and Reform Commission has made it clear that based on the “The Mid and Long-term National Plan to Actively Respond to the Ageing Population”, it is urgent to build human resource teams with the aim of serving the elderly, accelerate the training of social workers, nursing and caring staff and the speed of building up disciplines such as geriatrics in universities and training institutions. The workforce of the elderly care industry has to be strengthened, and making use of volunteers should be explored as a way to deal with the current situation.

Other actors also join forces to facilitate the development of the elderly care industry. The Charity Times, Tmall Beauty Care and the Alibaba Tiantian Positive Energy Programme have jointly launched the Tmall Personal Care Volunteer Elderly Care programme, which aims to organise 100 volunteers to visit the families of disabled elderly people each year. Training will be arranged for volunteers, including basic caring training as well as psychological counselling for the elderly’s family members. Through one-on-one pairing, volunteers and families are able to explore the best practices to care for the elderly.

Wu Yushao, vice president of the China Ageing Association, proposes six focal points for the future of the elderly care industry in China that demand more public attention and complementary policy support: more attention on the advantages and shortcomings of the current elderly care industry, health services, coordinated development, cross-sector integration, technological support and the real quality of the industry’s services. Professor Guo also emphasise the importance of participation of charities, businesses and organisations from other industries in order to address existing issues in the elderly care industry in China. “If we do not pay good attention to the issues of elderly people today”, says Professor Guo, “soon we will face serious challenges.”