Shanghai's youth care for their parents
By Hu Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-19 05:47

SHANGHAI: Even in China's most Westernized and rapidly ageing city, young people still follow the traditional family model of caring for their elderly parents, rather than sending them to care homes.

More than 60 per cent of Shanghai's young people said they plan to live with and care for their parents when they get old, according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission, questioned 4,800 residents over the age of 18, all of whom were the only children in their families. Researchers found the only-child generation was both very heavy dependent on its parents, but also very devoted to them.

Among the married respondents, more than 60 per cent are currently still living with one of the spouses' parents, with the parents helping look after grandchildren and doing the housework.

"We badly need our parents who live with us because both my husband and I are very busy with our work," said Nicole Lu, who has a 4-year-old son.

"Without them, our life would be a mess."

The survey found that more than 60 per cent of respondents were willing to care for parents on their own.

Influenced by the traditional family structure in which several generations live under the same roof, most people refused to accept the idea of having their parents sent to live in an old people's home.

"My parents took care of their parents, how could I force them out of my home in the future It would be like abandoning them," said Wang Xi, a local woman in her 20s.

Besides the tradition, sociologists say the only-child family structure has generated closer and more intimate relationships between children and parents. And children have also realized that they will one day be the only ones looking after their parents.

The city has had a one-child policy since the 1970s, transforming the structure of families and hastening the rush towards an ageing society.

Currently, around 1.4 million residents over the age of 18 are from families with only one child.

"Of course, I am willing to have my parents live with my family when they are old. I am the only child who can take care of them," said Xie Jing, an unmarried woman. Xie was strongly opposed to her parents' moving into an old people's home.

But sociologists commented that living with and caring for ageing parents is an emotional idea rather than a rational practice.

Only-child couples will have to turn to social support to care for four ageing parents, they pointed out.

"Saying is different from doing caring for your parents doesn't have to mean sharing an apartment," said Shou Lili, an expert in ageing problems. "The young generation has many differences in lifestyle with their parents.

"Old people need the emotional support of their children, but more and more elderly people prefer living an independent life."

Shou said that the ideal option was to have the parents living in the same neighourhood, or making sure their apartments were within half an hour from their children's homes.

The research also found that only around 27 per cent of respondents would hire nannies or other staff to take care of their parents, while less than 10 per cent plan to send them to an old people's home.

(China Daily 10/19/2006 page3)