The Best and Worst Countries to Grow Old In

24/7 Wall St.
The completed Canadian flag made out of lego bricks is pictured at the Canada Day LEGO Flag Build, on Monday July 1, 2013 at Parc Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, Quebec. For Canada Day, children could help build a Canadian flag made out of 128,000 LEGO bricks. (Francis Vachon / AP Images for LEGO Systems, Inc.)
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The completed Canadian flag made out of lego bricks is pictured at the Canada Day LEGO Flag Build, on Monday July 1, 2013 at Parc Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, Quebec. For Canada Day, children could help build a Canadian flag made out of 128,000 LEGO bricks. (Francis Vachon / AP Images for LEGO Systems, Inc.)

The world’s older population is growing. According to a report released last week, 11% of the current world population is 60 and older. By 2050, more than one in five will be at least 60 years old. In the United States, more than one in four will be over 60.

HelpAge International’s “Global AgeWatch 2013 Index” ranked the well-being of the older population of 91 countries around the world. The report rated each country based on factors, including income security, health care and employment. Sweden was rated as the best country for older people to live in, while Afghanistan was rated the worst.

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Wealth appears to be one of the biggest factors determining the overall quality of life for older residents in these countries. GDP per capita in the highest-ranked countries was the equivalent of at least $30,000 in all but one case. For nine of the 10 worst-scoring countries, GDP per capita was lower than $10,000. In Afghanistan, GDP per capita was less than $1,000.

While low income is itself part of Global AgeWatch’s measure, the group also noted that wealth tends to bleed into many other areas that affect older people. “A lack of resources also impinges on other social domains, and combines with factors associated with the ageing process to produce wider inequalities.” Income and overall economic prosperity influence health care and education, both important quality of life factors for the ageing population.

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The report notes, “It is no surprise that the countries where older people fare best are nearly all in the high-income bracket.” However, wealth doesn't always explain why certain countries treat their older population better than others. Some countries score well despite being less wealthy.

New Zealand, for example, is 24th out of 91 countries in GDP per capita, but it ranked higher than some of the wealthiest countries in the world -- including the United States -- for quality of life of its older residents. Global AgeWatch explained that this has to do with the country’s low poverty rate for its ageing population, as well as the strong quality of health care.

Not surprisingly, life expectancy made a big difference for the countries doing best or worst. The average resident of all the best countries who makes it to the age of 60 can expect another 23 years of life or more. Among the worst 10 countries, life expectancy past the age of 60 is as low as 16 years. In Afghanistan, the average person who lives to be 60 is only projected to live another 9.3 years in good health.

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As a result, the worst countries to grow old in also tend to have a much smaller proportion of older residents. In a majority of the countries that ranked worst overall for the well-being of ageing populations, less than 5% of the population was 60 or older. In most of the 10 highest-ranked countries, at least 20% of residents were 60 or older. In Japan, among the best countries in which to grow old, it was more than 31% of the population.

To identify the best and worst countries to grow old in, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed HelpAge International’s 2013 Global AgeWatch Index of 91 countries. Included in the report are data from the United Nations, the World Bank, Eurostat and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Each country was graded based on four measures: income security, health status, employment and education, and the overall environment for older residents. All data are for the most recent available period at the time the report was put together.

These are the best countries to grow old:

5. Canada

> Total population: 34.8 million
> Pct. population 60+: 20.8% (30th highest)
> GDP per capita: $35,223 (14th highest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 25 years (tied-2nd most)

Among Canada’s population aged 60, life expectancy is an additional 25 years, tied for second highest in the world. Older residents living in the country also generally consider their environment to be enabling. Only one country, Ireland, had a higher percentage of people aged 50 and older who stated they had someone who they could reach out to in an emergency. The vast majority of older Canadians also noted they had freedom to make choices in their lives. Canada currently has two entitlement programs, the Old Age Security program and the Canadian Pension Plan, designed to help residents in a manner similar to America’s Social Security. Recently, Canada’s government determined it would gradually shift the age at which Canadians become eligible for Old Age Security, from 65 to 67, beginning in 2023.

4. Netherlands
> Total population: 16.7 million
> Pct. population 60+: 22.8% (22nd highest)
> GDP per capita: $36,925 (11th highest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 24 years (tied-12th most)

Over 90% of the Dutch population aged 50 and over said they have relatives or friends they can rely on when in trouble. According to the Global AgeWatch, this is in part due to the country’s good road and highway infrastructure. More elderly residents in the Netherlands were satisfied with the country’s roads and highways than any country in the world. According to The Economist, health care costs have been rising in the country. Nevertheless, most older residents can still afford care. As of last year, the country had the fourth-highest GDP per capita among the countries measured by Global AgeWatch.

3. Germany
> Total population: 82.8 million
> Pct. population 60+: 26.7% (3rd highest)
> GDP per capita: $33,565 (17th highest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 24 years (tied-12th most)

More than one quarter of the German population is at least 60 years old, the third highest portion after Japan and Italy. Anticipating low birth rates and longer life expectancy, Germany overhauled its pension scheme more than 10 years ago. The new plan includes more private contributions from residents. According to the Index, pensions have been reduced since then, and the need for more resources for the older population will only increase. Older Germans are among the healthiest in the world. They also are among the least likely to be poor. In Germany, just 10.5% of people at least 60 were living in poverty, compared to 14.6% in the U.S.

2. Norway
> Total population: 5.0 million
> Pct. population 60+: 21.7% (26th highest)
> GDP per capita: $46,906 (4th highest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 24 years (tied-12th most)

Of the best countries for older people, Norway is easily the wealthiest, and it has been for several years. The high GDP per capita and overall prosperity relies heavily on the country’s large oil reserves in the North Sea. Norway introduced its universal rights-based pension long before its economy became so prosperous. Norwegians qualify for pension coverage before the age of 65, and nearly every older person receives a pension check. Supplementing income from the government with employment is also quite common. Norway also has the most educated and most employed older population among the nations measured.

1. Sweden
> Total population: 9.5 million
> Pct. population 60+: 25.4% (5th highest)
> GDP per capita: $34,125 (16th highest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 24 years (tied-12th most)

Based on current estimates, one in 10 Swedes will live to 100 years old. The anticipated surge of ageing citizens in the country will likely strain the world’s first universal social pension scheme, which was introduced in 1913. At the moment, however, Sweden is a comfortable place for its 2.4 million older people. Unlike the U.S. system, which is means-tested, the Swedish pension scheme is universal — all citizens of eligible age are guaranteed about $1,145 per month. The vast majority of older people in Sweden describe their lives as free and independent, tied with Norway for the second-highest percentage of the older population to do so.

These are the worst countries to grow old:

5. Rwanda

> Total population: 11.5 million
> Pct. population 60+: 4.4% (20th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $1,077 (18th lowest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 16 years (tied for 16th least)

Only 2.8% of the Rwandan population aged 60 and over had completed secondary or higher education, among the lowest levels worldwide. When people aged over 50 were asked whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with their freedom to choose what to do with their lives, nearly nine out of 10 respondents said they were satisfied, higher than in the United States. Recent budget increases and improvements to the country’s electoral code may help improve the conditions for future generations of older residents.

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4. Jordan
> Total population: 7.0 million
> Pct. population 60+: 5.9% (54th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $5,250 (77th lowest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 19 years (83rd most)

Like many of the worst countries for old people, Jordan’s older population is small, at just under 6%. Less than half of the people over 50 were satisfied with the public transportation system, which means many older people were less able to connect with friends and families and access services. According to the AgeWatch Index, older people fare much worse finding employment than the younger population, and they are less educated. Just one-quarter of the population aged 55 to 64 were employed and had completed secondary or higher education in the country. Otherwise, older people in Jordan felt relatively safe and free to live their own lives.

3. Pakistan
> Total population: 179.2 million
> Pct. population 60+: 6.5% (70th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $2,397 (46th lowest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 18 years (tied for 62nd least)

Older Pakistani residents reported the least freedom to live independent and self-reliant lives out of the countries analyzed in the report. Less than one in three people in Pakistan over 50 were satisfied with the freedom of choice in their life. The country also has lower levels of pension coverage than much of the world. The report also notes, "Compared with their counterparts in neighbouring countries, rankings for social connections indicate that older people in Pakistan feel less safe, less connected to the rest of society, and less able to enjoy civic freedoms."

2. United Republic of Tanzania
> Total population: 47.8 million
> Pct. population 60+: 4.9% (tied for 34th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $1,293 (23rd lowest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 17 years (tied for 36th least)

Tanzania had among the highest percentages of working older people -- nearly 95% of the country’s population aged 55 to 64 was employed. But if the older population's poverty rate there is any indication, these jobs likely offer very low wages and little opportunity to save. As many as 33% of older residents in Tanzania live in relative poverty -- the third highest after Thailand and the Republic of Korea. Education is also a problem; just over 3% of the population aged 60 and over had completed secondary or higher education of any kind. Only 3.2% of the country's residents over 65 years old received a pension of any kind. In the United States, it was 82.6%.

1. Afghanistan
> Total population: 29.8 million
> Pct. population 60+: 3.8% (8th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $977 (14th lowest)
> Life expectancy at 60: 16 years (tied for 16th least)

Afghanistan had among the smallest portion of residents at least 60 years old, at less than 4% of the total population. This low proportion is due in part to the country's low life expectancy -- 59 years for men and 61 for women. Life expectancy is 16 years for residents that are 60 years old, but only about nine of those years will be in good health. According to the AgeWatch Index, more than half of Afghan people over 50 do not feel safe walking alone at night where they live. With the American military scheduled to withdraw in 2014, the Afghan government worries the country will not be safe from foreign and domestic attacks.

Click here for the full list of Best and Worst Countries to Grow Old In.


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