The world is growing old, whither solutions for senior citizens?

Falling birthrates and shrinking family sizes, factors for China's housing market, have not yet reduced the practice of family care.

By Kanzuda Islam (Core Issue)

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Published: Thu 13 Jun 2019, 8:37 PM

Last updated: Thu 13 Jun 2019, 10:39 PM

Changing demographics throughout the globalising world, in particular an increase in the aging population and a decrease in birth rates, are disrupting housing markets.
Countries at the forefront of globalisation, namely the United States and China, as well as rapidly globalising countries like India, expect their aging populations to double by the year 2050. Coupled with changes to the family structure, especially a childbirth rate nearly halved since 1950 and more dual-income households, decisions involving the housing stock are more complex than ever before.
The three behemoths in the world in terms of population - the United States, China and India - may share a common challenge: Their governments are not prepared for exponential growth in their graying populations. Out of the three, the United States could be most affected, as the primary mode of senior care in China and India is in-home care. If family support remains the top choice for senior care, this could insulate India and China from the adverse effects of lags in adequate public and private planning. In-home care involves family members covering the cost and accommodation of senior members. Citizens over age 65, as of 2017, represented 15 per cent of the US population, six per cent of India's population, and 11 per cent of China's population. About 65 per cent of US elderly in need of assistance rely solely on family and friends, and non-family senior care is relatively new for India and China.
In the United States, the demographic of those aged 65 and above is predicted to swell, nearly doubling before 2040. The 2018 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University points out that "affordable, accessible housing located in age-friendly communities and linked to health supports is particularly in short supply." Challenges for seniors in need of housing include widening inequality, shrinking government subsidies for affordable housing and an imminent lack of feasible options. Detached, single-family homes and small apartments remain a popular choice for most adults aged 25 and above in the United States. With generally smaller families and a 30-year low in birthrates, according to the US Centers for Disease Control, smaller spaces have become more functional. Millennials also marry later and wait to buy homes. Demand has therefore shifted from large homes to individual rental units. Government at all levels provides tax breaks for senior housing, but regulations are few and health experts call for the private sector to make plans.
In Asia, the lack of planning may be less bleak with care of elderly parents deeply engrained in most cultures. China also confronts a majority-senior population, and a 2016 NCBI study found that 41 per cent of the Chinese population aged 60 and older live with an adult child. Another 34 per cent have an adult child living in the immediate neighbourhood and 14 per cent in the same county while five per cent do not have an adult child living in the same county.
For India, in-home care remains the leading form of senior care and there is social stigma surrounding exclusive senior housing. The country anticipates housing challenges with a senior population some 240 million strong by the year 2050. Majority of the middle-and working-class households continue providing in-home care for senior citizens, and joint and multi-generational housing is the most common form for that socioeconomic category. Meanwhile, millennials in India follow global trends, trading ownership for access, showing a preference for leaner households and rental housing.
Globalisation has shifted cultural views on housing. Right to Housing is a United Nations-led movement that highlights shelter as a fundamental human right. Policies acknowledge increasing preference for planned, small, standardised housing designed for two adults.
Examples of policies that acknowledge this trend involve eliminating property tax caps for seniors and encouraging efficient use of the housing stock through tax regulation. Other factors for analysing the interaction between a globally aging population and the housing market include advancements in medicine and living standards, among other variables, which contribute to greater longevity.
Asia led the way with shared multi-generational housing, and the United States and Europe may take that one step further with innovative forms of shared housing, including communal living in Europe. These housing programmes, both formal and informal, transcend differences as old and young, poor and wealthy, family members or not, live together under one roof.
The transition, at least for millennials, could be seamless, as that generation has already embraced the concept of a "sharing economy" with ease.
-Yale Global
Kanzuda Islam is a graduate in international relations and pre-Law. She has worked with notable NGOs that research shelter and human living standards such as BRAC

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