By Linda Belardi.

Australia ranks 14th out of 91 countries in the first ever global rankings measuring older people’s social and economic wellbeing, rating ahead of France and Denmark but below Germany, the US and the UK. 

The Global AgeWatch Index compiled by HelpAge International and supported by the United Nations Fund for Population and Development ranks countries based on four domains – income security, health status, employment and education, and enabling environments for an ageing population.

While Australia ranks 4th in the world for life expectancy and strong employment and educational attainment, it falls significantly behind other countries in the area of income security, ranking 57th in between Israel and Ecuador.

This bottom-half ranking is due to Australia’s relatively poor performance on old age poverty.

According to the report, nearly 27 per cent of people aged over 60 in Australia have an income less than half the country’s average income.

COTA Australia Chief Executive Ian Yates acknowledged high rates of poverty among older people as an urgent issue for the new government.

“Nearly a third of the long-term unemployed on the inadequate Newstart Allowance are over 55 and many face poverty for life as they languish, often unable to find employment for ten years or more, before they qualify for the properly indexed aged pension,” Mr Yates said on Monday in recognition of the International Day of Older Persons held today.

Creating an enabling society for older people also remains a challenge in Australia, said the report.

Older people’s satisfaction with public transport and perception of physical safety were relatively low compared to Australia’s performance in other domains. Australia ranked 25th on measures of an enabling society and environment, just below China,

Overall, Sweden topped the list of countries most supportive of an ageing population followed by Norway and Germany. Jordan, Pakistan, Tanzania and Afghanistan ranked as the worst overall performers for older people’s wellbeing.

The Global AgeWatch index has been developed from international data sets drawn from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the World Bank, World Health Organization, International Labour Organization, UNESCO and the Gallup World Poll.

A global advisory panel of more than 40 independent experts in ageing and health oversaw the development of the report. 

Policy, not economy is what matters

While older people fared best in Nordic, Western European and North American countries, interestingly, the report found no strong correlation between older people’s wellbeing and a country’s economic growth.

For example, the index showed that older people in some low and middle-income countries such as Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Bolivia fared considerably better than older people in some wealthier countries, highlighting the significant role of public policy.

“The rankings illustrate that limited resources need not be a barrier to countries providing for their older citizens, that a history of progressive social welfare policies makes a difference, and that it is never too soon to prepare for population ageing,” the report said.

Good social policies introduced in some middle-income countries offer lessons not just to other countries at the same stage of economic development but also to more developed countries that need to do more to improve the relative position of older adults, it said.

Fast facts:

In 2012, 19.6 per cent of the Australian population was over 60. In 2050, this will jump to 28.9 per cent of the population.

In the year 2050, for the first time in history, globally seniors over the age of 60 will outnumber children under the age of 15.

The fastest ageing countries – Jordan, Lao, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Vietnam, where the number of older people will more than triple by 2050 – all fall into the lower half of the ranking.

Sweden is the best place for older people – this year it celebrates a century of its state pension.

The worst place for an older person to live is in Afghanistan. Pakistan, Tanzania and Jordan also rank at the bottom, where a comparison with the Human Development Index shows that the wellbeing of older people is noticeably worse than that of the general population.

Poorer countries with a history of progressive social policies such as Sri Lanka, Bolivia and Mauritius score higher than might be expected from the size of their economies.

Global AgeWatch index

  1. Sweden
  2. Norway
  3. Germany
  4. The Netherlands
  5. Canada
  6. Switzerland
  7. New Zealand
  8. USA
  9. Iceland
  10. Japan
  11. Austria
  12. Ireland
  13. UK
  14. Australia
  15. Finland
  16. Luxembourg
  17. Denmark
  18. France

Read the ‘Global AgeWatch Index 2013 Insight report’ for a full list of the global rankings.

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