The outlines of China’s demographic challenge are well-known: By 2050 almost 27 percent of the population will be 65 or older, up from around 10 percent in 2015. Less recognized is that the crisis will hit hardest in rural villages.
China’s cities attract a disproportionate share of government health spending, along with the best doctors, so rural residents must put up with care that is expensive but shoddy. The average cost of a hospital visit is 50 percent of the annual income of a city dweller; for rural residents it’s 1.3 times annual income. Meanwhile, a 2014 survey by Stanford’s Rural Education Action Program found that patients at village health clinics received an accurate diagnosis only about one-quarter of the time. Overprescription of drugs is rampant.
About 60 percent of China’s senior citizens live in rural areas, where poverty is widespread and health care is poor.