Now on Taobao: Outsourced Care for Grandma

Soon after China’s revised filial piety law requiring regular visits to aging parents took effect last Monday, entrepreneurs have started offering elder-care services on e-commerce platforms. From The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report:

The new law, which requires adults to offer their parents mental and financial support, has spurred at least 17 online vendors on Taobao, the eBay-like site owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., to offer  services such as running errands and standing in line for the elderly in Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan, and Zhejiang.

“We offer services such as chatting, celebrating birthdays and even performances,” one online storekeeper told the state-run Shanghai Daily, saying services were selling for 100 yuan (about $16) an hour, plus extras and transportation. [Source]

The services’ appearance highlights the challenges many young people face in balancing filial piety with the demands of modern life. Wang Wenwen at the Global Times explains:

As China’s economy began to flourish, a great number of young people moved to prosperous cities but left their aging parents in hometowns far away.

Meanwhile, they often suffer stress from work and the rising costs of living in cities. Companies only offer negligible annual paid leave for them to go back home. All these make filial visits expensive and logistically difficult.

When there is need, there is a market. That explains why some Taobao vendors came up with the idea of visiting others’ parents. 

However, this business model is nothing but a byproduct of the conflicts in China’s development, the deterioration of traditional values and the incomplete social welfare system. [Source]

The phenomenon of outsourcing elder-care services comes at a time when China’s population is rapidly aging. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Christina Larson looks the current trend of shifting elder-care responsibilities from the state to seniors and their families:

The average life expectancy in China is now 73 for men and 79 for women, up more than 12 years since 1970, thanks to improved health care and nutrition. But the mandatory retirement age for most workers in China is fairly low: 50 for women and 60 for men. As a comprehensive report by the Prudential Foundation and the Center for Strategic & International Studies, China’s Long March to Retirement Reform, put it, “older workers seem to have little place in China’s new economic order.” The report also found that as of 2007, only 65 percent of the urban workforce, including both civil servants and private-sector employees, was contributing to even a basic state-mandated pension plan.

[…] What does that leave? Extended family networks. On Monday, a new law requiring that adult children visit their parents went into effect in China, as my colleague Bruce Einhorn reported. Questions about if and how the law will be enforced still loom, but the message is all too clear: China’s seniors and their families must somehow shoulder the burden of retirement and eldercare expenses, as the state seeks a diminished role in social welfare. But China’s savers still have few legal investment choices that offer consistent growth without high risk or entry barriers. [Source]


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