Elderly women have tougher time than men

Updated: 2011-11-29 07:24

By He Dan and Cang Wei (China Daily)

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Elderly women have tougher time than men

An elderly woman sells melon seeds and guavas in a shopping street in Lanzhou, capital of Northwest China's Gansu province, on Nov 10. Local media reported that the 83-year-old woman has to make a living by hawking even though she has five adult children, all of whom refuse to support her. Provided to China Daily

BEIJING - A recent official report revealed that Chinese women face more obstacles in their old age than men who are at the same stage in their lives.

Experts blamed that disparity on the tendency of elderly women to have lower incomes and longer lives, according to the report, which was compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics.

In China, nearly 46 percent of women in their 60s rely on children to help them pay for their daily expenses, which is 24 percentage points more than elderly men do, the bureau said at the fifth national meeting on women and children affairs, which was held on Monday.

Meanwhile, only 20 percent of elderly women receive pensions and other retirement benefits, while 30 percent of elderly men do, and 28 percent continue to receive work income after they have hit retirement age, as compared with 43 percent of men.

"The majority of elderly women, especially in rural areas, are housewives who barely had the chance to receive an education 40 years ago or even longer," said Fang Jiake, deputy director of the Hetong Senior Citizens' Welfare Association in Tianjin.

"So women are more vulnerable to poverty in their old age and depend heavily on their children to support them," Fang said.

Even so, he said the situation will improve as young women in China become better educated and come to enjoy job opportunities that are the same as those that are open to men.

"Many old women who cannot get financially independent tend to feel unsure of themselves and depressed," said Wang Yanrui, director of the Senior Citizen Cooperation, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to improving the welfare of the elderly.

Without additional ways of making income, these women will see their lives take a serious turn for the worse if their partners die or if they have trouble getting along with other members of their families, Wang said.

Even some career women will find life after retirement to be a struggle.

Qi Xiao, 46, a worker at a liquor factory in Suqian, Jiangsu province, said she will have a hard time supporting herself if she stops working at the age of 50.

"Now I earn about 2,000 yuan ($314) a month," she said. "But I can only get a monthly pension of less than 1,000 yuan after retirement."

Qi said she knows little about how to best manage her savings to offset the effects of inflation.

Tang Can, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' center for women studies, said the longer women live, the more likely they will be to need nursing services and other support in their old age.

In China, women can expect to live to be 74 years old on average, which is three years more than men can, according to 2007 data from the World Health Organization.

Tang said the government should provide more living subsidies to women, especially those in rural China, where a social security network has not been well established.

"Women make up the majority of the elderly population," Tang said. "China will not overcome its difficulties with aging if it fails to ensure that old women have decent lives."