Life expectancy at 60 is now at least a third longer than what it was in the middle of the 20th century in many countries. While people around the world are living longer, the 2014 Global AgeWatch Index, developed by HelpAge International and University of Southampton, finds social policies to support their wellbeing in later life are inadequate in one-third of all countries across the globe. Thus, people’s experience of their “golden years” varies widely, with millions still facing a bleak and impoverished old age while others retire in comfort and ease.

The Global AgeWatch Index is constructed based on data drawn from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the Gallup World Poll, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNESCO, and the International Labour Organization. Created to fill a gap in information concerning old age, the Index ranks 96 countries according to the social and economic wellbeing of their oldest citizens. Essentially, then, the Index considers the lives of 91 percent of all elderly people throughout the world.

The Index is founded on an understanding that income, health, personal capabilities, and an enabling social environment are all important factors when considering the general wellbeing of senior citizens. Because it ranks nations as a whole, it does not compare those who live at the highest level with those who live at the lowest level of a given society. Comparing whole nations, then, the Index finds:

  • Norway is the best place for older people, alongside Sweden, Switzerland, and Canada.
  • The United Kingdom is ranked 11th, although it is ranked 3rd for the enabling environment.
  • People over 60 will be 21 percent of the total global population by 2050 (currently, they are 12 percent).
  • Apart from Japan, the top 10 countries are in Western Europe, North America, and Australia.
  • The worst place for an older person is Afghanistan. Just above it are Mozambique, West Bank and Gaza, and Malawi.

Other countries in the lowest quarter of the Index include the African countries, which make up half of those with low income security rankings and poor health results. Venezuela, Serbia, and Turkey are also low on the Index. In these lower-ranked countries, policies have not kept pace with the fast rise in the numbers of older people. At the opposite end, Chile leads a cluster of Latin American countries, including Uruguay, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru, which are doing relatively well on the Index, particularly in terms of income security.

"Societies have been slow to embrace the positive aspects of longevity and to see older people as a resource that, in the right circumstances, can repay investment with extended working careers as well as more self-reliant, healthy and independent living," said Dr. Asghar Zaidi, Centre for Research on Ageing at the University of Southampton. So where, you may ask, does the United States rank within the Index? The U.S. sits in position 8, below Iceland and above Japan.