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Older couple in Colombia © Jonas Wresch/ HelpAge International

09 September 2015

Where is the best place to live in the world if you're an older person? The third Global AgeWatch Index - which measures the quality of life of older people around the world - has been released, revealing some of the best and worst places to grow old.

  • Switzerland is the best place to grow old in 2015, pushing Norway from the top spot
  • The UK ranks 10th – up one place from last year
  • Afghanistan comes at the bottom of the index for the third year running
  • The index reveals growing global inequality… 
  • …and older women suffer most

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Ageing is clearly a global issue. Governments need to begin planning for their ageing populations, particularly in the developing world. The ‘youth bulge’ of today in many countries will be the ‘age bulge’ of tomorrow.

Chris Roles, Director of Age International, says: "Analysis of this year’s Global AgeWatch Index demonstrates that when governments plan ahead and invest in their ageing populations, society as a whole benefits."

Age International is calling on UK and global governments to address inequalities facing older people within the new Sustainable Development Goal framework.

Shedding a light on the best place to live in the world for older people

The Global AgeWatch Index ranks 96 countries according to well-being in four key areas:

  • income security
  • health education 
  • employment opportunities
  • social connectedness

According to the Index, Switzerland is officially the best place in the world to grow old in 2015. Last year’s number one, Norway, has moved into second place. 

Nearly 24% of Switzerland’s population is aged over 60. The country has a range of policies and programmes on active ageing, promoting capability, health and the enabling environment for older people.



How do other countries rank?

The UK performed well in the social environment category, coming third overall. However, it was also ranked 20th for education and employment – 3 places higher than last year, but still behind Panama, Estonia and Armenia. 

British couple cycle in the countryside

The UK’s lowest ranking was in health (27th), a close-run area where small differences in the aggregate value of indicators can have a high effect on ranking.

Perhaps surprisingly, Greece (79), Venezuela (76) and Turkey (75) ranked in a similar position to many sub-Saharan African and Asian countries.

Afghanistan remains the worst country to live for an older person (96). Just above it come Malawi (95), Mozambique (94) and West Bank and Gaza (93).

Inequality continues to grow

The Index also exposed a worrying trend – the growing inequality between the richest and the poorest. When comparing high-income countries at the top of the Index with low-income countries at the bottom of the Index, the inequality in health, education and income levels of older people is increasing.

Older women in Japan

This inevitably has an impact on life expectancy. In Japan, people aged 60 have the highest life expectancy and live on average an additional 26 years. In Afghanistan, people aged 60 only live on average an additional 16 years.

Older women suffer

Gender inequality is also pronounced. There are more older women in the world than there are older men. Older women live longer but they live more years in ill-health. They also have the lowest literacy rates. 

Globally only 46.8% of women aged 55–64 are economically active, compared with 73.5% of men. In addition, women usually earn less than men, so opportunities to save for later life are limited, increasing their risk of poverty and ill health in old age.

Fatema receives aid after the Bangladesh floods

The combination of a lifetime of gender discrimination, combined with inequality in old age, can have a devastating effect on older women. In Bangladesh 89-year-old Fatema (pictured) desperately needed aid after the floods in 2010. But her son felt that she didn't deserve to receive emergency relief, just because she was an older woman. She cowered in fear as she told us that she knew he would take the food off her as soon as she received it.

In Pakistan, 70-year-old Salma says: "There was a time when no one bothered about my needs. I was a burden on my family. I could not even ask for medicines."

What happens when we don’t count older people

The Index also shows that data on millions of older people is missing; comparative international data on basic indicators is only available for 96 countries. Collecting and analysing data is vital to enriching the picture of ageing we have around the globe and – most importantly - can be used to improve lives.

In Tanzania older women are attacked with machetes and even murdered

Violence against women is a case in point. The data systems recording sexual and physical violence against women stop at 49, perpetuating the long-discredited notion that only women of reproductive age experience sexual violence.

“Millions of older people are invisible, living their lives in countries where information on the quality of older age and the experience of ageing is missing from international data sets. Without this data, older people, and especially older women, will continue to be marginalised in many parts of the world,” says Chris Roles.

The lesson? It's time to plan for ageing populations

Globally, the proportion of older people is growing. By 2050, 46 of the 96 countries in the Index will be classed as hyper- ageing, meaning 30% or more of their populations will be aged 60 and over.

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

Number of people in the world aged over 60 now and by 2050

"The Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity for governments around the world to think ahead and make the commitments that will improve the economic and social well-being of those in later life and ageing populations.

Importantly, they also give us a framework to follow-up and make sure that pledges and promises are translated into meaningful action."

The ageing index

The Index is produced by HelpAge International, a global network of ageing organisations, of which we are the UK member.

Two older men with a young relative

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