2011 News

As China faces challenges of aging population, new book offers insights, innovations

As the global population ages, the concept of “productive aging” offers a new perspective on meeting the challenges of an aging society. In contrast to conventional views of aging, “productive aging” views older adults as participants in and contributors to social development, rather than passive recipients of services. Productive aging research seeks to inform policy that supports older adults in leading a life that is more comfortable, dignified, and valued by society. 

A new book from China Society Press, Collected Studies on Productive Aging, explores multiple productive aging topics, including research on caregiving, volunteering, entrepreneurship, and employment. The book is edited by Gao Jinguo, Professor at Shandong University, Nancy Morrow-Howell, Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work at Washington University, and Ada Mui, Professor of Social Work at Columbia University. A product of the first academic discussion on productive aging in China, Collected Studies on Productive Aging represents the collective wisdom of the leading scholars in the field. The conference, held at Shandong University in 2009, was organized by the Center for Social Development at Washington University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The papers from this conference were also published in English as a special issue of the China Journal of Social Work.

“The book contributes significantly to understanding the trend and characteristics of population aging in China,” says Mui. “It not only offers insights on public policy and the social welfare system but also provides new perspectives for developing and planning future research and program topics.”

Productive aging research and policy will be very important for China, which has the largest aging population in the world. In 2008, the population aged 65 and above reached 110 million, accounting for 37% of older adults in Asia and 23% globally. Accordingly, the book devotes particular attention to China’s aging policies, policy innovations, and challenges, and provides new perspectives for developing and planning future research and program topics.

Gao notes the new direction the book represents. “The concept of ‘productive aging’ has urged us to rethink traditional beliefs about older age, aging, employment, and retirement,” he says. “This will provide a new model for policymaking in China.”

Productive aging is a growing topic of discussion in other countries, and these discussions will only increase as the world ages. Other developed countries, including the United States, will also see large increases in their aging populations over the next 20 years. The study of productive aging in China, therefore, is relevant not only to China’s future prosperity and development, but also to the development and progress of the world.

“Population aging is a global issue, not limited to China,” says Morrow-Howell. “As one the most rapidly aging countries, China’s response to this issue will present a learning opportunity for other countries.”

A conference at Peking University on August 9-11, 2011 continued these discussions. Over 300 gerontology scholars from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the US, Japan, and Singapore as well as government officials and practitioners from the China National Committee on Aging and the Ministry of Civil Affairs came together to discuss strategies to address population aging. The conference, Productive Aging in China: Toward Evidence-Based Practice and Policy, galvanized work on the productive engagement of older adults as a strategy to strengthen families and communities in China as well as to promote the health of older adults.