Beijing to Promote ‘Migratory Bird’ Retirement Among Elderly Residents
Every year when winter begins in China, hundreds of thousands of elderly Chinese in the frigid north of the country migrate south in pursuit of warmer climates. Now officials in the capital city of Beijing are incorporating this practice, known as “migratory bird retirement,” into elderly care.
The city is promoting the establishment of “winter in the south and summer in the north” elderly care services to complement residential and home care services for its “energetic elderly,” municipal officials said last week.
China has an aging society by United Nations standards, with those aged 60 and over accounting for 19.8% of the total population at the end of 2022, according to data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs on Thursday.
As China’s population continues to age, elderly care is becoming an increasingly important challenge for the government.
Among the elderly, the “migratory birds” are those in good health and with plenty of spare time, said Luo Shougui, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Antai College of Economics and Management who leads a team researching elderly care.
Luo explained that vast differences in the climate in different parts of the country and the convenience of traveling between provinces have created demand for migratory bird-style retirement.
Luo’s team publishes two reports every year ranking Chinese cities on their suitability for migratory bird-style retirement. In 2023, Liupanshui City in the southwestern Guizhou province was ranked the best city to retire in the summer, and Sanya in the southernmost Hainan province topped the list for winter.
With average winter temperatures of above 20 degrees Celsius, Hainan has attracted “migratory birds” from northern China for many years. In 2022, Sanya reported a population of around 0.73 million people with household registration, while nearly 1.07 million people stayed there for more than half the year.
In its announcement, the Beijing officials identified Hainan as the winter destination where elderly residents will be encouraged to travel to, without providing further details about specific mechanisms.
“Being warm in the winter and cool in the summer are the basics,” Luo told Sixth Tone, “But migratory elders spend a long time in the ‘habitat,’ not two or three days, so many factors have to be taken into account.”
In addition to temperature and air quality, Luo’s team also evaluated the socioeconomic situations of different cities, including health care, transportation, and cost of living.
For example, one of the key criteria is how many doctors and hospital beds per 1,000 people a city has. However, Luo pointed out that seniors from out of town may face difficulties in reimbursing medical expenses when seeking treatment.
In Hainan, the influx of seniors has driven up local prices and caused a strain on hospitals, according to domestic reports. But such problems may be limited to the most popular destinations, according to Luo, as less popular cities would prefer the economic benefits of the increased visitors.
What may be the bigger issue for these cities is the impact of the seasonal nature of these visits, as new infrastructure built to accommodate migrating seniors may stand idle during the off-peak months.
“We also call it ‘tidal retirement,’ where there is an influx of people at high tide, and then they are all gone at low tide. The unevenness of the off-peak seasons requires localities to find the proper business model,” said Luo.
Migratory retirement is not limited to China. The sunshine state of Florida in the United States attracts tens of thousands of seniors from other states every year due to its warm climate and absence of income tax.
In Europe, many retirees from the cold Nordic countries seasonally migrate to the warmer southern parts of the continent during the winter months.
Editor: Vincent Chow.
(Header image: IC)