By Katherine Sinyavin

To address personal, familial, and national changes that occur as the average life expectancy of populations increases in Asian countries, University of Chicago’s Yuen Campus organized a seven-part webinar series, 100 Year Lives in Asia (100YLA), led by Kathleen Cagney, a professor in the Department of Sociology and recently appointed faculty director of the Yuen Campus in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Faculty Working Group.

“In Hong Kong, there is a lot of interest in changing age structure and the extent to which it affects older adults and those who care for them,” Cagney said. “In the series, we explored social relationships and how they are affected by COVID-19. We also addressed more general questions about life expectancy and health and intergenerational relationships both in how they relate to caregiving and to bequests and transfers and how families think about exchange-based behavior.”

Early sessions included “Health and Life Expectancy,” “Social Distancing - A Historical Perspective,” “Intergenerational Wealth Transfer,” and “Responsibilities Across Generations.” Later sessions addressed “Government Policy and Social Safety Nets” and “Where Do We Go from Here? Innovation and Opportunities.” All discussions are available here.

For each event, faculty gave brief research presentations, and then engaged in a discussion facilitated by Cagney and informed by questions submitted by attendees. Each topic was approached from diverse perspectives and contexts. For example, at the session entitled “Government Policy and Social Safety Nets,” government policies concerning the elderly and people with disabilities in the United States, Singapore, and Thailand were discussed, analyzed, and compared.

The goal of the webinar was to think not just about aging but also the arc of a life and how different points in a life-course bring up different challenges and opportunities, Cagney explained. The series was open to anyone who wanted to attend, and according to the Yuen Campus organizers, attendance ranged from 80 to 210 viewers per session. Across the series, attendees joined from 31 different countries, including the United States, Spain, Malaysia, Germany, and the Philippines.

Originally, the Yuen Campus had planned a conference in March called Asia Forum 2020: Innovation in a Transitioning Asia. However, because of COVID-19, it was postponed, and 100YLA emerged.

The webinar was created with the implications of the pandemic in mind, and it played an important role in the panelists’ presentations and discussions.

“While COVID-19 provided a salient example, it was not the only example of how to think about topics such as informal caregiving for older adults,” Cagney says.

“The webinar series also succeeded in connecting scholars from different regions of the world who might share a substantive interest but might not know one another. By sharing their research and engaging in discussion with each other, panelists have the opportunity to connect and form research networks in the future,” Cagney notes.

100YLA also helped the Yuen Campus broaden its reach within and beyond the UChicago community.

“People often have questions about how global centers work or what their purpose is. In this webinar, we were able to connect scholars from across the globe, and I think we found a way to do that effectively. I was inspired by the group at the Yuen Campus who helped form this approach and execute it.”