"Decades ago, the idea that China's eldest residents would be put in the care of non-family members was laughable — impossible" — Double-whammy: Aging China has fewer children to care for it. "In China's tradition-ruled society, parents and grandparents have always depended on their children, grandchildren or in-laws to care for them in their old age." Times have changed:
- Largely due to government policies, birthrates have been falling for the past few decades. At the same time, the explosion of China's middle class has produced millions of upwardly mobile, two career families that are more than willing to move about the country or even abroad for their jobs.
Xu Anqi, a professor and the deputy director of the Center of Family Research at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said China's birthrate has been falling for 16 years. Though it's hard to pinpoint the cause, many point to population control policies that date back to the days when China was barely able to feed itself.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the government tried promoting contraception, and then encouraged later marriages and longer waits between children. In 1979, China grew desperate and resorted to what's known today as the One Child Policy. Under this policy, urban couples are limited to one child, while farmers and rural couples are limited to two.
The policy worked. From 1960 to 1980, China's fertility rate fell from six children per woman to two — the most rapid decline in fertility ever recorded.
It was a win for the government, but many Chinese consider it the loss of a tradition.
"Families traditionally used to having many siblings around to take care of older residents suddenly find themselves faced with a problem," Xu Anqi said. "All the pressure is on one child to take care of his parent and grandparents and spouse's parents. It's too much for just one person."
Researchers have dubbed it the "1-2-4 problem" — one child taking care of two parents and four grandparents.