Thank goodness for children: they will care for us and keep us company in our old age.
China had to pass a law recently requiring adult children to visit their elderly parents often. “The move comes as reports abound of elderly parents being abandoned or ignored by their children,” the AP reports. So much for filial love and devotion.
Negligent offspring are now subject to lawsuits by their parents for not visiting. Hopefully parents can also sue for the elder abuse that is often reported in the Chinese news. Some observers believe these problems stem from the high cost of caring for the elderly in a country light on affordable retirement homes and heavy on one-child families with no siblings to share the burden.
Many news outlets are reporting that the law is a response to elder abuse, like a notorious case of a man who housed his aged mother in a pig pen. Indeed, ”elder-abuse cases in Hong Kong have risen 15% in the last two years.”
But requiring parental visitation makes little sense as a response to abuse. Why sentence victims to more time with their abusers? The law is more likely meant to battle elder neglect.
There is a geographical component to that neglect that many Americans can relate to. “An eighth of China’s inhabitants – 167 million people – are over the age of 60. Many of their children leave home to find work in major industrial centres.” That means they are far away, so finding the time and money to visit mom and dad can be challenging.
Germans are also struggling with elder care. The costs of nursing homes are rising beyond the means of many German families. They have settled upon an unusual solution: placing their parents in retirement homes in Asia and Eastern Europe. Over 7,000 older Germans are in retirement homes in Hungary alone. Local “social welfare organisations…have called it ‘inhumane deportation,’” The Guardian reports.
One reason for this reaction may be that the increased geographical distance between grown children and parents likely means fewer visits.
Humane or not, exporting elderly Germans and neglecting Chinese parents result in part from the irrefutable pressures of demographics and money: populations with growing proportions of older people who need care, and less money to pay for it.
Regardless of the reasons that grown children are not caring for or visiting their parents, the phenomenon illustrates a point that voluntarily childless (or “childfree”) people have been pressing for a long time: breeding is no kind of long-term care insurance policy. It is no more effective in the U.S. than in other countries.
As a childfree woman, I am often asked who I expect to care for me when I’m old. The specter is dangled before me of an old age spent in a nursing home. But the truth is that I will have plenty of company, and mostly composed of parents. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010 there were 1.4 million residents in U.S. nursing homes. (This number is down from 1.5 million in 2004.)
“An estimated 60 percent of nursing home residents have no regular visitors,” according to the Ohio state government. I seriously doubt that 60% of people in nursing homes did not have children. Rather, their children live far away, or are busy, or can’t be bothered. Having kids doesn’t guarantee that they will be there for you, whether you are Chinese, German or American.
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