Canada is the fourth-best country in which to grow old, while Afghanistan is the worst, according to a new global index, which warns nations that they must work quickly to address the implications of a rapidly aging global population.
The findings are contained in HelpAge International’s 2014 Global AgeWatch Index, the release of which is timed to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. Data from the UN Population Fund contributed to the findings.
The Index ranks 96 countries according to the social and economic wellbeing of its citizens over the age of 60 in four key areas: income security, health, personal capacity, and an enabling environment.
This year’s top-10 list is as follows:
- the Netherlands
- the United States
- New Zealand
Canada earned its number-four ranking because it cracked the top-10 in all four of those categories, the report said, including fourth in health.
- Canada ranked 7th in income security on the strength of its public pension program, which most residents over age 65 can access. The prevalence of both employer-sponsored pension plans and individual registered retirement plans also contribute to the strong income security score.
- Canada ranked 8th in capability due to high rates of post-secondary education. Nearly 84 per cent of older Canadians have higher education, which is a whopping 23 percentage points above the average for the region. Higher education “impacts positively on [Canadians’] working life, as well as on their life expectancy,” the report says. A growing number of Canadians have also continued working into their sixties, the report notes. While some have done so for economic reasons, others have delayed retirement “to stay socially connected and active,” the report notes.
- Canada ranked 9th in the “enabling environment” category, with above-average scores for safety, civic freedom and social connectedness. However, it scored below average on satisfaction with public transport. While larger cities have comprehensive public transport systems and offer seniors discounted rates, “most seniors live in areas where the car is the primary form of transportation,” the report says. Seniors with a valid driver’s licence and access to a car are more likely to participate in social and family activities.
There are an estimated 868 million people over the age of 60 living in the world, representing about 12 per cent of the global population. That is expected to jump to 2.02 billion by the year 2050, the report says.
A country’s strong economic performance or growth are not enough to improve older residents’ wellbeing, the report says. Specific policies must be enacted to help address the “implications of aging,” it says.
“The unprecedented rate and speed of population aging presents policy makers with a challenge,” Toby Porter, chief executive of HelpAge International, said in a statement accompanying the report.
“Only if they act now will they have a chance to meet the needs of their citizens and keep their economies going.”
According to the report, the worst place in the world to be over age 60 is Afghanistan, which ranks dead last at number 96 on the list. Mozambique comes in at 95, the West Bank and Gaza sit at number 94, and Malawi is at number 93.
More than one-third of the countries included in the report trail well behind the top countries, the report notes.
The fastest-growing age group is the 80+ demographic, the report says. Those over 80 currently represent 2 per cent of the global population, a figure that will jump to 4 per cent by 2050.
Population aging is happening around the world, but there is a wide disparity between how many of the world’s senior citizens can expect to live beyond 60 and can expect to remain in good health.
Currently, two-thirds of the world’s residents over the age of 60 live in low- and middle-income countries, the report says. That figure will rise to four-fifths by 2050.
“In many countries, life expectancy at 60 is now at least a third more than what it was in the mid-twentieth century,” reads the executive summary accompanying the report.
“However, people’s experiences of later life varies, depending to a large extent on where they live and their circumstances earlier in life.”
This year’s report focused on pensions, and found that only one-in-four people over age 65 in low- and middle-income countries receive a pension.
It notes the rise of taxpayer-funded “social” pensions, whereby a basic regular income is offered to older citizens.
China, Nepal, Thailand, Mexico and Peru are just some of the countries that have introduced social pensions, recognizing that many of their workers don’t hold jobs with employer-sponsored pensions.
- In China, a social pension introduced in 2009 covers 133 million people over the age of 60.
- In Mexico, the growth of social pension plans over the past decade has resulted in nine out of 10 people over age 65 with coverage.
While social pension systems help reduce poverty and inequality, they have other benefits, the report found. In Bolivia, for example, where the Dignity Pension is offered to all residents at age 60, households with at least one older resident report “dramatic increases in school enrolment and falls in child labour.”
For countries keen to move up on next year’s index, the report concludes, guaranteeing older citizens an “adequate minimum income” would be a good place to start.