Life expectancy on rise, but gap remains

By Shan Juan (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-01-10 07:46

Despite regular increases in the national average life expectancy, the gap between rich and poor regions continues to grow, a leading demographics expert has said.

Zhai Zhenwu, director of the China Population Association, said the gap grew to 14 years in 2000, and now required government attention.

"Regional economic and developmental disparities should not automatically translate into a shorter life for those at the poor end of the spectrum. It's unfair and could affect stability and harmony," he told China Daily.

The average life expectancy in China increased to 73 in 2005, up by more than a year and a half from 2000.

The average life expectancy in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin in 2000 was the same as in most developed countries, with Shanghai registering the highest - about 78 years.

At the other end of the life expectancy spectrum are poor, remote areas in the western part of the country like Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. People in Tibet lived to an average of about 64 in 2000.

Zhai said the problem looks more pressing when one considers that the urban-rural gap is present on a smaller scale within almost every region of the country.

Because life expectancy reflects a broad array of social and economic conditions, it is a key way to measure development, he said.

The benefits of China's growing economic power have spread across the country, but some pockets remain impoverished, Zhao said.

The problem is that medical resources such as large hospitals and qualified doctors tend to be concentrated in large cities, he said.

In 2000, in rural parts of Guizhou province, 45 percent of babies were born at home, he said.

Before 2002, when the rural cooperative medical scheme was launched to provide subsidized healthcare to farmers, much of the rural population had no medical coverage, he said.

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