Working until You Drop: The Elderly of Rural China

By Pang, Lihua; de Brauw, Alan et al. | The China Journal, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Working until You Drop: The Elderly of Rural China


Pang, Lihua, de Brauw, Alan, Rozelle, Scott, The China Journal


In developing countries, aging is in many ways more difficult than in developed countries. In order simply to maintain the same standard of living as they age, people must rely on pensions, their savings and/or their children or other relatives. However, few developing nations offer formal pension plans for rural residents. Nor can they live off of their savings; in developing countries they are generally poor and are not able to accumulate sufficient assets or savings during their lifetimes. Therefore, villagers in developing countries typically rely on their extended family to support them in their old age.1

Life in rural China traditionally has been like rural life in many other developing countries, as families have played an important role in maintaining the elderly's livelihood. As in times past, this still primarily means reliance on the support of sons. In a typical situation, the elderly in rural China live with or next door to one of their sons in an extended family arrangement.2

Mores in rural China, however, are changing rapidly. The rise of off-farm employment and increased mobility are altering the nature of the family in rural China, often leaving the elderly to live on their own after their children move out.3 Changes in family-planning policies that began in the early 1970s have left people with fewer children to provide support. In some cases couples do not have any sons, in other cases a son is not capable or is uncaring.4 The cumulative effect is that many of the elderly find themselves increasingly relying on their own earnings.

Despite the importance of continuing to work into advanced old age in rural China, few studies have tried to understand the phenomenon.5 Although some research related to the labor supply of old people in China and other developing countries has appeared, almost all of it has been conducted at the macro level;6 little research has focused on the perceptions and decisions of the household.

The overall goal of our paper is to understand what drives the elderly's decisions on whether to work or not. We will examine work in a broad sense, including both formal employment-work on the land, off the land for a wage, and earnings from the household's family-run business-and informal work done in the home, taking care of household chores or tending grandchildren. We will illustrate the working patterns of the near-elderly and elderly and develop a profile of the characteristics and strategies of those who still work and of those who do not.

Rural China provides an ideal laboratory in which to study the labor patterns of the near-elderly and elderly. As a result of declining fertility and increasing life expectancy, rural China is undergoing a demographic transition of a kind that can be expected in many other developing countries in the future.7 According to China's 2000 census, 128 million people in China are aged 60 years or older, accounting for 10 per cent of the population. Demographers project that by 2050 those aged 60 and above will reach 400 million, more than doubling as a share of the population.8 Currently, 65 per cent of those older than 60 years of age live in rural areas, whereas the need for a job is driving many younger laborers into the cities.9 Although the rise in the number of elderly and these population shifts portend wrenching changes in the nation's demographic structure, social institutions and labor markets, there is little rigorous economic analysis of the work patterns of those who are over 50, and how they respond to the pressures of aging, ill-health and demographic changes.

Data

To describe the contours of the elderly's employment and to document the patterns of labor activities among different types of work, we will use a data set of 1,199 households that we collected in 2000 from a randomly selected, nearly nationally representative sample of 60 villages in 6 provinces.10 The survey gathered detailed information on household demographic characteristics, wealth, agricultural production, non-farm activities and investment. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Working until You Drop: The Elderly of Rural China
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.