Switzerland tops list of best places for older adults

"Today, in all countries of the world, the proportion of older people is growing," says Toby Porter. "By 2050, 46 of the 96 countries in the index will have 30 percent or more of their populations aged 60 and over. We have just 35 years to prepare." (Credit: Yaniv Golan/Flickr)

Switzerland is the best place for older people to live, according to a new report that assesses the social and economic well-being of the older population in 96 countries around the world.

The Global AgeWatch Index represents 91 percent of the world’s population that is 60 and older, amounting to some 901 million people. It measures four key areas: income, health, education and employment, and the enabling environment. HelpAge International released the report in collaboration with the University of Southampton.

The four main findings of the study are:

  • The top five countries in order are Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Canada.  The UK ranks tenth, one spot behind the United States. Apart from Japan, which is ranked eighth, the top spots are taken by advanced countries in Western Europe and North America. Afghanistan is ranked last at 96.
  • Countries at the top of the list are those that invest in improving the lives of older people by implementing policies that promote social pensions, universal healthcare, and enabling physical and social environments.
  • African countries make up half of those with low income security rankings and poor health results. The region requires more research and policy interventions than any other studied.
  • Greece (79), Venezuela (76), and Turkey (75) are in a similar position to sub-Saharan African and Asian countries.

“This index is vital in representing the lives of older people in countries around the world as it enables us to compare not just their pension income and health but also the age friendly environments in which they live,” says Asghar Zaidi of the Center for Research on Aging at the University of Southampton.

“The index has also shown that a number of countries still lack vital statistics of older people, and we would like to see them feature in the report in the future.

“The new post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals offer us a great opportunity to start building a better future for all ages by framing agendas and public policies over the next 15 years. If older people are to be truly represented in these goals, we need to see more data broken down by age and gender—to help us more effectively understand and address needs specific to this age group.”

35 years to prepare

By the time goals reach their fruition in 2030, the proportion of people aged 60 and over globally is predicted to rise to 16.5 percent, up to three-quarters of whom will live in developing countries.

The index is a step on the road to people fulfilling their potential at every stage of life,” says Toby Porter, chief executive of HelpAge International. “Today, in all countries of the world, the proportion of older people is growing. By 2050, 46 of the 96 countries in the index will have 30 percent or more of their populations aged 60 and over. We have just 35 years to prepare.”

The Global AgeWatch Index 2015, also shows that the gap in life expectancy at age 60 between countries at the top and bottom of the index has widened from 5.7 years in 1990 to 7.3 years in 2012. People aged 60 in Japan have the highest life expectancy and live on average an additional 26 years, while people aged 60 in Afghanistan, live on average an additional 16 years. Average life expectancy at 60 across all featured countries is 21 years.

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The combination of a lifetime of gender discrimination, combined with inequality in old age, can have a devastating effect on older women. Globally 46.8 percent of women aged 55 to 64 are economically active, compared with 73.5 percent of men. In addition, women usually earn less than men, so opportunities to save for later life are limited, increasing their risk of poverty in old age.

Poverty rates among older people also vary dramatically. The Republic of (South) Korea currently has the highest poverty rate among older people at 48.5 percent, followed by Venezuela at 38 percent, Australia at 33.4 percent, Bolivia at 30.3 percent and Honduras at 28.9 percent, despite significant variations in Gross National Income per capita.

At the other end of the spectrum countries with low old age poverty rates are equally varied. The poverty rate among older people in South Africa is 12.17 percent, Mauritius, 6.4 percent, India, 5.1 percent, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 4.5 percent, Czech Republic, 1.7 percent, and the lowest, Iceland, at 1.6 percent.

Source: University of Southampton