The best and worst countries in the world to be old in
- 23:00 30 September 2014 by Fred Pearce
The future is grey. The world’s population is ageing, and we aren’t prepared for it.
That is the upshot of the Global AgeWatch Index, an assessment of quality of life for people of 60 and over, based on income security, health and living environment from the HelpAge International network.
Ageing is widely seen as a rich-world phenomenon, but it is a global issue. It is a concern because old people tend to have a worse quality of life in poor countries. The index predicts that as the poor world ages, millions face a bleak old age. Afghanistan is the worst place among those surveyed to be old, followed by Mozambique and the Palestinian territories. Norway is the most age-friendly, then Sweden and Switzerland.
Worldwide, life expectancy has doubled in the past half century to 66 years. A century ago, Britons could only expect to live to 47; now fewer than a dozen nations do worse than that. Costa Ricans, Taiwanese and Cubans can expect to live as long as Americans.
Some countries with increasing wealth ignore their older citizens. Being old in booming Turkey is as bad as it is in Cambodia. Whereas Mexico, a poorer nation than Turkey but with superior pension provision, is now a better place to be old than Italy or Portugal.
Much of the global longevity revolution is down to falling infant death rates. But the future lifespan of those who make it to 60 is also rising fast – in poor nations as much as rich ones. “On average a woman aged 60 today can expect to live until she is 82,” says the report. Men can expect to reach 79 years.
China already has more old people than any other country, and will probably have 150 million people over 75 by mid-century.
As the poor world ages, hundreds of millions face a bleak old age, and will be dependent on their children, saysAsghar Zaidi of the Centre for Research on Ageing at the University of Southampton, UK, who compiled the index. In low- and middle-income countries, only one in four people over 65 receives a pension. And despite living longer, women are less likely to get a pension than men.
This neglect leaves ageing populations vulnerable, dependent and far less able to contribute to society than they might otherwise be. A recent German study found that, properly looked after, the old could be a boon to societies – a source of wisdom and experience in the workplace, and even reduce carbon emissions.
Zaidi agrees. “Societies have been slow to embrace the positive aspects of longevity, to see older people as a resource,” he says, adding that people will have extended working careers as well as more self-reliant, healthy and independent living