The Best (and Worst) Countries to Grow Old

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.

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.

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 (and worst) countries to grow old.

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