This tale of a bird and its children relates to many of us:
“A bird once set out to cross the windy sea with its three fledglings. The sea was so wide and the wind so strong, the father bird was forced to carry his young one-by-one, in his strong claws. When he was halfway across with the first fledgling, the wind turned to a gale, and he said, ‘My child, look how I am struggling and risking my life in your behalf. When you are grown up, will you do as much for me? And provide for my old age?’ The fledgling replied, ‘Only bring me to safety and when you are old, I shall do everything you ask of me.’ Whereat the father dropped his child into the sea and it drowned and he said, ‘So shall it be done to a liar such as you.’ Then the father bird returned to shore, set forth with his second fledgling, asked the same question and receiving the same answer —drowned the second child with the cry, ‘You, too, are a liar.’
Finally, he set out with the third fledgling, and when he asked the same question, the third and last fledgling replied, ‘My dear father, it is true you are struggling mightily and risking your life in my behalf, and I shall be wrong not to repay you when you are old, but I cannot bind myself. This though, I can promise: When I am grown up and have children of my own, I shall do as much for them as you have done for me.’ Whereupon the father bird said, ‘Well spoken my child, and wisely.”
Where are we going? To caring for an aging population.
Within 15 years, one in four Chinese will be 60 and older. Now, China’s over 60 population exceeds 200 million. Of those, maybe 100 million remain in rural villages that have few children.
The U.N. estimates that China’s elderly will number close to 25 percent of their population by 2050:
Like the bird knew that its fledglings would not necessarily provide eldercare, so too do the Chinese. It used to be that children would look after their elderly parents. No more. Combine the one child policy with migration to the city and traditional filial piety evaporates.You can see below that 47 percent of the people surveyed believed the government should bear the greatest responsibility for the elderly:
Our Bottom Line: Dependency Ratios
In 2050, there will be 39 elderly people who are more than 64 years old for every 100 working age Chinese, 15-64 years old. As the number that compares the working age population to those who no longer work, the dependency ratio is an indicator of the economic impact of an aging population. It displays the extent to which those who work have to support those who do not.
A German Jewish widow told the tale of the bird and its fledglings in a memoir that she started to write in 1690. I guess worrying about who will care for us when we are old is a timeless concern.