Visit Mom, Or Else

China recently passed a law requiring adult children to visit their elderly parents. Xiaoqing Pi takes note of the first case:

A Chinese woman and her husband have been ordered to visit the woman’s elderly mother at least once every two months, and during at least two public holidays every year, in the first application of a new law that requires Chinese people to “regularly” visit their parents. A local court in Wuxi, a city in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, imposed the requirement on the daughter and son-in-law of a 77-year-old woman identified only by her surname, Chu, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. Ms. Chu’s daughter had not visited her since the two had a falling out in September, according to other state media reports (in Chinese). The court ruled that Ms. Chu could ask authorities to fine or even detain her daughter and son-in-law if they failed to visit, Xinhua said.

Some 33 percent of young Chinese citizens report seeing their parents just once a year, while a further 12 percent haven’t visited their parents “in years.” Bruce Einhorn says the law has roots in China’s one-child policy:

With government-provided assistance very limited, seniors in China largely depend on their families to care for them in their golden years. Hence the risk from the One Child Policy: Without brothers and sisters to pick up the slack, all it takes is one unfilial child for the system to break down.

Adam Minter argues that economic and migratory shifts bear some responsibility:

In China’s traditional agrarian culture, those aging relatives would live with, and be supported by, their children. But the country’s modernizing economy means children are moving far from their parents to work. … According to data gathered by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in 2011 empty nests accounted for 49.7 percent of urban households and 38.7 percent of rural households. This number will increase as China’s population ages, reaching more than 54 percent of all elderly households in 2050, says [deputy director of China’s National Committee on Aging] Zhu Yong.

Michael Pettis warns that China’s changing demographics pose a long-term threat to its economy:

While China’s overall population will stay roughly constant over the next three decades, its working population will actually drop by 1½ percent a year during this time. The explosion in the number of senior citizens, with no equivalent increase in the number of children becoming adults, means that by the middle of the century China’s working-age population will fall to 56 to 58 percent. China will then have one of the oldest populations in the world, and it will have a relatively small economically productive base on which to support a small number of children and a large number of retirees.