As a consequence China’s one-child policy, its aging population as a percentage of its total population has grown significantly in the past decade, and will continue to do so. With this demographic shift comes new pressures on China’s health care system, additional costs related to aging, a shrinking population percentage available to engage in industry and work, and a noticeable cultural transition in the beliefs and practices surrounding the care for aging relatives. In many ways, the US currently faces similar challenges with its own aging population, although its demographic shift began in earlier decades and lacks the suddenness of China’s aging crisis. The implications of an aging crisis for both nations stretches far beyond caring for the elderly, as it impacts national budgets, necessitates readjusting national health care priorities and systems, and causes changes in the labor force.
In China, the national government has begun supporting practices and customs that sustain or improve the health of its aging population. One example is square dancing (广场舞), which is a popular practice among many female retirees in China in which women gather in public places, such as open squares or parks, to play popular music on a small speaker and dance to simple choreographed routines that can be learned online. The phenomenon, which is particularly prevalent in urban areas, began in the mid-1990s as older women in contemporary China moved into retirement. Square dancing quickly emerged as a popular to way to keep occupied, meet other retired women, and stay healthy through exercise. In this way, square dancing provides a source of exercise and socialization for a population who found themselves with a lack of stimulation and social interactions after retirement. Participation has been shown to have substantial benefits for participants’ mental and physical health.
Recently, government support for the practice in China has expanded to government-commissioned choreography and recommendations encouraging local administrators to provide or build facilities where women can dance. These actions demonstrate that the Chinese government recognizes the importance of the phenomenon to the health and livelihood of China’s rapidly growing elderly population, and that it understands that supporting local community practices can have a widespread positive effect on China’s expanding aging cohort. With an increasing amount of research outlining the empirical benefits of square dancing, it has become clear that support for practices similar practices could lead to an improvement in the management of China’s transition to an older population.
Similar to China, support for programs that could sustain both physical and mental health among the elderly population in the US could positively influence many aspects of national strength, especially since the US currently spends a significant amount of funds on health care for the elderly. China and the US should evaluate China’s support of square dancing as a model for preventionist, cost-effective programs for health care that have the potential to shift government energy and money away from aging populations and instead to other areas of national concern.
CLS Digest 2017
Find here selected essays from the Duke-UNC CLS 2017 applications written by delegates!