By 2050, a fifth of the world–2 billion people–will be age 60 and over. According to projections, there will be 10 times more older folks as in 1950, and twice as many as there are today. In the future, most countries will have higher proportions of older people. Almost a third of populations in Europe and Japan will be 60-plus, for example. Even Africa, the “youngest continent,” is set to have 13 times more elderly as it does now.
The Global AgeWatch Index is a new ranking of how countries treat their greying generation. It crunches data across four main categories–income security, health and well-being, employment and education, and “enabling environment”–and gives a sense of how countries are catering to over-60s now, and how well prepared they are for the future. The ultimate goal is to encourage governments to “realign policy to the realities of 21st-century demographics,” the report says.
Developed countries hold the top spots. Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada are in the first five places. The U.S. comes in eighth. Japan is in 10th place. Fourteen of the top 20 countries are European. At the bottom (only 91 are ranked) come Pakistan, Tanzania, and Afghanistan, which treat their elderly less well–at least as judged by the index.
The ranking was created by HelpAge International, an NGO, together with the Center for Research on Aging at the University of Southampton and the United Nations Fund for Population. It’s the first of its kind, and a comprehensive and approachable analysis of the aging issue.
The authors point out that treating the elderly well isn’t just a matter of health care, nursing homes, and pensions. It’s also about knotty issues like income inequality (“Economic inequalities within countries have been growing in most parts of the world in recent decades,” the report says) and providing sufficient employment and education opportunities. The study also rates countries for things like “perceived support available from relatives or friends,” physical safety, and access to public transit.
The U.S. comes 36th for income security, 24th for health, 2nd for employment and education, and 16th for enabling environment. The report notes how much we pay for health care, comparatively speaking, and how the U.S. has lower life expectancy than other similarly rich countries. About 22% of the population here will be over-60 by 2050, which is about the global average.
Interestingly, the authors find “no strong correlation between older people’s well-being and a country’s economic growth.” In countries like China and India, for instance, “rates of poverty among older people remain high in comparison with other age groups.” Countries like Belgium (in 24th place) and Estonia (29th) perform less well in the index than in rankings for their populations as a whole. Sri Lanka (36th) and Bolivia (46th) do better for their elderly, comparatively.