Sweden tops list as best place for seniors

"People over 60 years of age already exceed children under 5, and by 2050 they will outnumber children under 15," says Silvia Stefanoni. "However, the continual exclusion of aging from national and global agendas is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world’s aging population." (Credit: Sage Ross/Flickr)

A global “age index” reports that in terms of well-being and quality of life, Sweden is the best place for older people to live and Afghanistan is the worst.

The Global AgeWatch Index 2013, completed by Professor Asghar Zaidi from the Center for Research on Aging at the University of Southampton and HelpAge International, with the support of the United Nations Fund for Population, compares the experiences of older people from 91 countries and ranks them in order of quality of experience.


“The Global AgeWatch Index is the beginning of a process in which we are gathering all the available evidence of the lives of older people around the world,” Zaidi says.

“It follows the footsteps of the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and presents, in an accessible and engaging way, a ‘dashboard’ of indicators that measure the multidimensional quality of life and well-being of older people in a range of different socioeconomic contexts.”

The Index recognizes that income, health, personal capabilities, and an enabling social environment are all important aspects of the well-being of older citizens. By analyzing national policies and strategies, the chief findings include:

  • Sweden is the best place for older people, closely followed by Norway. Japan is the only non-European and non-North American country in the top 10.
  • The UK is ranked at 13, next to Ireland (12) and Australia (14) but five positions higher than France (18).
  • The United States is ranked 8.
  • Mauritius is the top African country.
  • Chile leads a cluster of Latin American countries that includes Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama.
  • Afghanistan is the worst place for older people, followed by Pakistan, Tanzania, and Jordan.

The Index focuses on older people’s income security, health status, employment, and education capabilities and the enabling environment of societies in which they live. It builds a strong case for better policies and services to improve their lives in many countries—especially in developing countries.

2 billion older people by 2050

By 2050 the number of older people in the world will reach more than two billion. The Index emphasizes that such “stock taking” work is absolutely essential in developing new ways to tackle the global challenge of an aging population and to empower older people to hold their leaders responsible.

“The world is rapidly aging: people over 60 years of age already exceed children under 5, and by 2050 they will outnumber children under 15,” says Silvia Stefanoni, Interim Chief Executive of HelpAge International.”However, the continual exclusion of aging from national and global agendas is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world’s aging population.

“By giving us a better understanding of the quality of life of women and men as they age, this new Index can help us focus our attention on where things are going well and where we have to make improvements.”

“We expect the Index to become an important research and analysis framework for practitioners and policy-makers alike, as it will facilitate cross-national comparative research on the quality of life and well-being of older people, and help identify data and knowledge gaps on issues of aging,” Zaidi says.

“We need to give more and more importance to such data gathering work—in fact, since the lives of older people are at stake, we can’t afford not to.”

The Index doesn’t just demonstrate the best and worst places for people to grow old, but is also a tool to encourage countries to recognize the challenges of their aging populations.

It reveals some surprising global and regional comparisons and indicates Gross Domestic Product per capita, a proxy for country’s wealth and standard of living, does not necessarily lead to better welfare outcomes for older people:

  • The G20 economies are spread across the full range of the Index.
  • The fastest aging G20 countries—India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey, where older populations are set to more than double over the next 40 years—are in the bottom half of the Index.
  • The tremendous economic growth of the BRICS2 countries has not necessarily resulted in higher benefits for older people: Brazil and China rank relatively high in the Index, while India and Russia fare less well.
  • Sri Lanka at 36 ranks much higher than its South Asian neighbor Pakistan, at 89, despite having similar levels of GDP—Sri Lanka scoring significantly higher on age-friendly environment.

The Index was developed in consultation with an international, multidisciplinary advisory group that provided overall guidance on the concept, methodology and use of the Index and included representatives from United Nations agencies (such as UNFPA, UNDP, WHO, ILO3), as well as academic, civil society and other sectors with specialized knowledge on issues linked with aging and well-being of older people.

The data used to construct the Index comes from the World Bank, World Health Organization, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, International Labour Organization, and Gallup World Poll database.

Source: University of Southampton