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Dr. Mark Rosenberg: studying aging populations in China

Dr. Mark Rosenberg: studying aging populations in China

Mark Rosenberg's work in China focuses on issues surrounding the changing demographics of the country and the needs of the elderly population.

[Dr. Mark Rosenberg]Dr. Mark Rosenberg (Geography) holds the Canada Research Chair in Development Studies at Queen’s. Collaborating with colleagues from Canada, the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at Beijing Normal University in Beijing, he studies the effects of social deprivation and access to services in the elderly population and pollution and its effects on health.

In late October, Dr. Rosenberg returned to Kingston from Beijing.

Every year, he conducts a week-long workshop for PhD students at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research. They focus on strengthening the research skills of the graduate students to tackle health and environmental issues particular to Beijing.

“It’s a participatory workshop,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “They give presentations, team projects, and take part in peer review exercises.”

He first went to China in 2005. “I went to present my research at a meeting organized by a Chinese colleague and a German colleague as part of the activities of the International Geographical Union Commission on Health and the Environment.”

“Over a 10-year period, we have developed a research program on the aging of the Chinese population, particularly in Beijing. Since 2005, it has created many two-way opportunities. After my first trip, I had my first PhD student from China come and work with me at Queen’s. She is now an associate professor at Beijing Normal University. Much of the current research in the field stems from her thesis.”

Two of his PhD students currently working under his supervision at Queen’s are exploring different aspects of the issue: one is researching community services in Beijing, the other, the growing inequalities in both health and income in China.

Rapid demographic change and economic change is changing social and health-care systems in ways in which the government had never imagined

Much of Dr. Rosenberg’s own research has looked at changing demographics across Canada and the implications of aging populations for health care and public policy. This work has increasing relevance in China, where both families and governments are facing new health-care demands.

“What makes Beijing such an interesting place to do research,” he says, “is the pace at which change is taking place. In the last ten years, the Chinese government has awakened to the fact that policies like the “one-child” policy have serious implications for the aging population. By 2050, a quarter of the population will be over 60. That’s roughly 300 to 400 million people, or almost the entire population of Canada, the United States and Mexico. With these kinds of numbers, they’re going to need home care systems, residential care systems, things that are all new to them.

“Rapid demographic change and economic change is changing social and health-care systems in ways in which the government had never imagined. They need to think through these issues themselves, and examine the international experience.

“Historically, in Chinese society, the eldest child – particularly the eldest son – was supposed to care for aging parents in the home. That system is falling apart, for a whole host of reasons. The dynamism of the Chinese economy means that children might not live in the same city or region as their parents any more. There has been an enormous flow of young people from rural to urban areas. And in urban areas, incredible changes in wealth means that the cost of living, particularly in housing, make it almost impossible for families to purchase apartments and to accommodate multiple generations in the same household.

“Another issue affecting the aging population is the social welfare system. Historically, it was based on people living very modestly through the support of the state. The problem they’re now dealing with is that the current older population is, in essence, living on very modest incomes. There is a growing gap between the cost of living and the means for these people to support themselves.”

Learn more about Dr. Mark Rosenberg’s work...