By the year 2050, for the first time in history, adults over the age of 60 will outnumber children under the age of 15.
That’s a big message driving the Global AgeWatch Index 2013, the first ever comprehensive study to measure quality of life and wellbeing among older people in 91 countries worldwide, based on a study by HelpAge International and the UN. The study’s motive: To raise awareness and sound an alarm about what’s coming. As the global population ages and traditional family structures break down, HelpAge says, countries will be increasingly unable to care for their oldest citizens.
According to the study, only one in five older people worldwide has a pension, and fewer have health care.
And right now, nobody’s paying attention.
“We need new solutions that work from cradle to the grave. Just as the 20th century saw changes in education, the workplace and social security systems to help children, now must be the time to make radical changes to accommodate the rising numbers of older people.”
Where Do We Rank?
So, how does the US rank, and which countries are doing the best job?
Here are some highlights (click here to visit the AgeWatch Index site).
- Ranking in the top 5 are Northern Europe – Sweden, Norway, Germany, Netherlands; and North America – Canada, to be precise. Rankings are based on income security, health status, employment and education, and enabling environment. You can see complete ranking by clicking here.
- How did Sweden make it into the first spot? Global AgeWatch’s “Insights” points to the country’s pension system, which came into effect 100 years ago. “Successful welfare policies of the 1900s have supported the historically unique situation where the number of people living beyond the age of 100 has surpassed the number of deaths in young children.” In fact, the swedish government is now warning citizens that it might raise the retirement age; people should be prepared to work to age 75 and switch careers in the middle of their working lives so that everyone can continue to receive such great benefits.
- The US ranked number 8, after New Zealand, with our lowest score being for health status. The US score for psychological/mental well-being is high, at 97.9 percent; that’s the percentage of people over 50 who feel their life has meaning compared with people aged 35-49 who feel the same. You can see a detailed report card for the US by clicking here.
- Money isn’t everything. One very poor country, Bolivia, ranks at number 46 – above Greece and several other more developed countries. Why? According to Global AgeWatch, “Bolivia has a progressive policy environment for older people, thanks to pressure from older people and forward-thinking policy makers.” A few years ago, Bolivia instituted a National Plan on Aging, which provides free healthcare for older people and a non-contributory universal pension.
- Ranking at number 91 is Afghanistan, where only people in government receive a pension. Life expectancy there is 59 years for men and 61 for women.
This HelpAge International slideshow tells more of the story:
Also see “Global Aging: A Story in Pictures,” a series of AP portraits of older people around the world.