The government has divided the area’s senior residents into two groups — “young elderly” aged 60-75 and “old elderly” aged over 75 — and is encouraging the “young elderly” to help take care of their “old elderly” neighbors. Pan has started working at a gym near her home, helping local retirees get to grips with the machines. Other “young elderly” residents offer computer classes, rides to hospital appointments, or just a few hours of company. They receive no salary for this work. Instead, they are paid in “time coins,” which they can exchange for free services when they become “old elderly” themselves.
The system — known as Time Bank — has had only mixed success during local trials. Yet it could soon be rolled out all over China, as the country scrambles to deal with the grinding consequences of its demographic crisis.
Four decades of draconian family-planning policies have left China with one of the world’s fastest-aging societies. It’s now home to more than 264 million people aged 60 or over, and this figure is expected to rise to a staggering 402 million by 2040.