The Role of the State and Family in the Living Conditions of the Aged in China: Changing Attitudes and Outcomes

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Pension reform is at the centre of the policy agenda in China, as it undergoes rapid economic and social change, and attention is focused on ensuring that the pension system is financially sustainable in the face of the projected rapid ageing of the population. But addressing the needs of current generations of the aged presents additional challenges for policy makers, and what is feasible is constrained by inherited attitudes, arrangements and expectations. After reviewing the main features of recent pension reforms, this paper utilises data from two national surveys of the aged population in China (conducted in 1992 and 2000) to examine the role and impact of state provision, market transactions and family exchanges on the living conditions and of the aged. It also examines the perceptions and attitudes of the aged and argues that inadequate attention has been paid to the role and impact of informal (family-based) support mechanisms. Particular attention focuses on changes in the relative roles of formal and informal support for the aged in urban and rural areas, and on changes in conventional (resource-based) measures as well as subjective indicators of well-being. The analysis reveals that inequalities based on gender and location are persisting and while there is clear evidence of improvements in material prosperity, some of the subjective indicators indicate that these do not translate into improved levels of economic security. On many of the indicators examined, the gap between the fortunes of urban and rural aged shows little sign of narrowing.
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Saunders, Peter
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