Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Depression Status of Empty Nesters in Eastern Rural China

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Depression Status of Empty Nesters in Eastern Rural China

Article excerpt

At the end of the 20th century, China entered a phase of rapid aging that has accelerated even more in the 21st century, ushering in a "wave of silver hair" (Zhou, 2014). In January 2015, the Office of the National Working Commission on Aging, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and other agencies in China jointly launched the fourth sampling survey on the living conditions of older adults in urban and rural China. The survey results showed that 212 million people (15.5% of the population) were aged 60 years and over, of whom 15% were more than 80 years old and 15% were disabled or partially disabled (Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People's Republic of China, 2016).

The rapid aging of the population and the shrinking average family size in China have produced many emptynest families. We defined empty nesters as people aged 60 years and over who do not live with their children but may live either alone or with a spouse. This group includes relative empty nesters, who live in the same area but not under the same roof as their children; absolute empty nesters, whose children live abroad or in another part of the country; and empty nesters with no children, who have not given birth to or adopted any children, or whose children are deceased. Empty nesters represented about 50% of the older adult population in China in 2013, and by 2030, 90% of the estimated population of nearly 300 million older adults will be empty nesters (Wu & Dang, 2013).

In the process of population aging and the empty nesting of older adult households, the health status of empty nesters has become an issue of great concern for the government. Like most countries in the world, China is experiencing strains in national pension reserve fund. The health problem of older adults, whether it is physical or mental, implies more burden on the state financial resources. Compared with nonempty nesters, empty nesters have more prominent physical and mental problems and diseases due to factors such as less availability of regular care and attention from their children (Liu, Sun, Zhang, & Guo, 2007; You & Lee, 2006). Scholars examining the depression status of empty nesters have categorized the influences on older adults' depression into subjective factors (e.g., satisfaction, well-being, and self-esteem; Ramocha, Louw, & Tshabalala, 2017; Wang & Kim, 2017; Zhao, Zhang, & Ran, 2017) and objective factors (e.g., age, gender, level of education, socioeconomic status, social support, marital status, and health status; Fang, Li, Liu, & Shi, 2015; Y.-Y. Li, Gao, Zhang, & Tian, 2017).

Researchers who have studied older adults' psychological status from the perspective of subjective age have argued that the younger an individual's subjective age is, the less likely he or she is to experience anxiety and depression (Huang, Li, & Wang, 2017). Other scholars who investigated the psychological status of older adults from the perspective of objective age growth have arrived at different results. Goldzweig, Baider, Rottenberg, Andritsch, and Jacobs (2018) found that depression in older adults with cancer increases with age, although this trend does not continue after the age of 86, whereas other researchers have reported that age plays a positive role in older adults' mental health or has no direct relationship with depression in this population (Hurria et al., 2009; Weiss Wiesel et al., 2015).

In general, compared with researchers from other countries, Chinese scholars tend to have a greater focus on China's current sociopolitical and economic conditions and traditional culture. These Chinese scholars (e.g., Fang et al., 2015) often examine relatively objective factors, such as age, gender, marital status, level of education, social support, and empty nest status, as the most common and important factors affecting older adults' mental health.

There is a relatively high proportion of illiterate older adults in rural areas in eastern China who were born before 1949, that is, before the founding of the People's Republic of China. …

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