Spring 2011 Vol. 11 Number 1
Among the research presented in Beijing were new findings on family support for the elderly in China. For example, researcher Yi Zeng of Peking University found that both elderly parents and their adult children benefitted from sharing a household; the elderly parents tended to have better cognitive function, while the child care they provided allowed more of their daughters to work outside the home. But such multigenerational living situations are becoming less common in China as more young adults leave rural areas to seek work in cities.
Although relocating can leave children less able to provide direct care to parents, it can help them provide financial support, as research by Xianghong Wang of Renmin University of China revealed: Forty-four percent of money sent back home by migrant workers is used to support parents. In general, money and other resources are flowing from children to parents in Asia, University of California researcher Ronald Lee reported -- unlike in Latin America and many other industrialized nations, where resources tend to be transferred in the opposite direction.
The wide range of research presented at the India conference included the first results from the Longitudinal Aging Study in India (LASI). Currently in its pilot phase, the study will eventually be expanded to follow the health, economic status, and social support of about 30,000 people over time.
David Bloom of Harvard University, one of the study's principal investigators, explained LASI's context, noting that the aging trend will be difficult for India. With fewer children living close to their parents, family-based support systems are eroding. In such situations people usually look to the government for support, but in India there is currently a vacuum. LASI will provide data that can be used to shape policies to fill that void.
The pilot LASI findings were explored in several subsequent presentations, including one by P. Arokiasamy of the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai and Jinkook Lee of Rand Corp. Their preliminary analysis of the data found that in India -- in contrast with many developed countries -- higher levels of education are linked to greater prevalence of diabetes and hypertension.
During a final roundtable discussion at the conference, participants explored some of the major challenges ahead for researchers, including finding funds for aging research given the recent economic downturn and helping policymakers understand the benefits of long-term studies. Also mentioned was the need for researchers to understand "the people behind the data" and their particular social and cultural context -- one of the benefits offered by international collaborations. -- Sara Frueh
More information on Beijing and Delhi conferences, as well as a free PDF of the report "Preparing for the Challenges of Population Aging in Asia," can be found online. The project is sponsored by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.