Special Report

The Best (and Worst) Countries to Grow Old

The Worst Countries for the Elderly

10. Iraq
> Total population:
35.9 million
> Pct. population aged 60+: 5.0%
> GNI per capita: $13,234
> Life expectancy at 60: 18

After years of devastating war in Iraq and with instability and violence in the region, the Iraqi population faces near-constant struggles in their daily lives — and the elderly population even more so. Only 5% of residents are at least 60-years old — compared to the 20.7% of U.S. residents who have reached that age. While Iraq’s social security system is not as poor as in many of the worst countries for the elderly, economic security in the form of employment for the elderly is difficult to come by in Iraq. Less than a third of Iraq’s 55- to 64-year old population is employed, compared to more than 60% of the U.S. population of the same age.

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9. Uganda
> Total population:
38.0 million
> Pct. population aged 60+: 3.8%
> GNI per capita: $1,300
> Life expectancy at 60: 16

Uganda’s elderly population is one of the most disadvantaged age groups in the world. This may be at least partly because it makes up such a small share of the country’s population — just 3.8% of the nation’s residents are 60 and older. In contrast, 20.7% of the U.S. population is at least 60. The East African nation is extremely poor, with a GNI per capita of just $1,300 — a small fraction of the U.S. GNI of $51,484. As a result, Uganda’s economic security for the elderly is even worse. Just 6.6% of Uganda’s population 65 and older was covered by a pension, compared to a 92.5% coverage rate in the United States.

8. Rwanda
> Total population:
11.1 million
> Pct. population aged 60+: 4.5%
> GNI per capita: $1,386
> Life expectancy at 60: 18

Very few elderly populations have worse mental and physical health than that of Rwanda. Just 4.5% of the country’s population is 60 or older. And the life expectancy of residents reaching that age is just an additional 18 years on average, which is five years shorter than the life expectancy of 60-year-old Americans. The psychological well-being of elderly Rwandans compared to the younger population is also poor. A relatively small share of the country’s citizens 50 and older said they felt their lives had purpose or meaning. The lack of purpose may be related to the low level of education among elderly Rwandans. Just 2.8% of the country’s residents 60 and older had the equivalent of a high school diploma.

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7. Zambia
> Total population:
15.0 million
> Pct. population aged 60+: 4.3%
> GNI per capita: $3,632
> Life expectancy at 60: 17

An environment that provides safety, freedom, and a support network of friends and family is essential for the elderly to have a good quality of life, and Tanzania has one of the worst such environments. For example, just 34% of Tanzania’s population 50 and older felt safe walking home at night, less than half the share of 50 and older Americans who felt the same. The nation’s GNI per capita is among the lowest in the world, and the elderly are even less economically secure than the rest of the country’s population. For example, only 7.7% of the population 65 and older has pension coverage. In the nations that provide the highest quality of life for the elderly, at least 90% of senior citizens are covered by pensions.

6. United Republic of Tanzania
> Total population:
47.7 million
> Pct. population aged 60+: 4.8%
> GNI per capita: $1,611
> Life expectancy at 60: 18

A healthy economy can promote high quality of life for the elderly. With a GNI of just $1,611, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries and one of the worst places to grow old. Just 3.2% of Tanzanians over the age of 65 received a pension, the second lowest coverage worldwide. While retirement is often viewed as a highly desirable goal for older people, employment late in life frequently results in greater engagement and well-being for the elderly. Almost 86% of Tanzanians aged 55 to 64 were employed, the fifth highest elderly employment rate in the world. Education also improves quality of life in old age, but only 3.1% of Tanzanians 60 and older have secondary or higher education. Only two other countries have a lower share of educated elders.

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