This paper presents an introductory analysis of the nature of the supports needed and received by the elderly in Taiwan, and the individual and institutional providers. Taiwan is an excellent laboratory for studying many of the emerging issues concerning the status of the elderly in Asia.
As a predominantly Chinese culture, it shares with many countries in East Asia a tradition which views the formation of a multi-generational extended family as ideal. At the same time, it has undergone rapid demographic change in the last 25 years, manifest in sharply lower fertility,
increasing life expectancy, and continued urbanization; and a dramatic economic transformation from a fairly poor agricultural country to a prosperus industrialized society. In addition, the existence of two distinct groups among the elderly–the native Taiwanese and their descendents and the Mainlanders, the approximately one million Chinese who arrived after 1949 in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War–provides interesting contrasts which may help reveal emerging trends.
Using data from the 1989 Survey of Health and Living Status of the Elderly, it is found that a major axis of differentiation among the current elderly is the division between the Taiwanese and Mainlanders. The Mainlanders are much more likely to live alone or with spouse and/or unmarried children than the Taiwanese. As a result of this and their weight among the elderly (Mainlanders comprise 22 percent of all elderly), they are a significant factor in the apparent trend in Taiwan away from the more traditional extended or stem family (i.e. residence with at least one married son). As the Mainlanders move out through the age structure, the overall trend away from extended co-residence may slow for a time, but other socioeconomic and demographic factors–such as rising incomes (facilitating more independent living), smaller family sizes, increased urbanization and educational level–point to less co-residence among the elderly in the future.