The newly-published Global AgeWatch Index 2013 provides a country-by-country comparison of the well-being of older people, and gives an idea of just how efficient current government policies are.
Though population ageing is a major concern for national and international development, it is essentially a long-term issue which has tended to be shelved, especially since the authorities have had a more urgent situation to deal with over the past few years in the shape of the latest economic crisis. Although there is a wealth of national statistics on the status of the older section of the population, until now there has not been any centralised international index. This has meant that no real comparison between countries could be made, slowing down the process of drawing up long-term international policies to take proper account of older people’s issues. Now the Global AgeWatch Index, compiled by teams working under Professor Asghar Zaidi at the Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton, UK and international NGO HelpAge International, with contributions from many experts both from civil society and various UN organisations, fills the gap and provides a clear and precise international overview of the well-
being of older citizens.
Northern countries riding high, wide inequalities apparent
One might expect to see the G20 countries placed on average fairly high up the rankings, but the countries achieving the best scores on age-related matters are in fact Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, which come out as the top five in the Index ranking. The total mark is the aggregate of a number of areas: income security, health status, employment and education and, more generally, what the Index calls an ‘enabling environment’ for the well-being of older people. France is down in 18th. Perhaps the most worrying issue is that among those countries whose populations are set to age the fastest in the coming years – such as Russia because of its low birth rate, China due to its family planning policies and India even in spite of its demographic explosion – most are ranked lower down the table.
Comparisons as a basis for action
Given the recent increases in life expectancy around the world, policies for supporting and protecting older people in the short-medium term would appear to be a must for the majority of countries. “By bringing together all available internationally comparable data, the Index highlights those countries with successful policies and strategies and is offered as a reference point, giving policy-makers an opportunity to identify their own countries' strengths and weaknesses,” explained Professor Zaidi. In terms of comparison, the Index undermines the easy assumption that pro-senior policies are the preserve of the richer countries. For example, Bolivia, one of the poorest countries, ranks higher than Greece and South Africa. In the same way that the United Nations Development Programme-sponsored Human Development Index provides a complement and counterpoint to GDP, the Global AgeWatch Index underlines the fact that the effectiveness of policies for the aged is less a question of cost or national wealth and more to do with making decisive public policy choices.
place, with a total of 75 points, some way behind the top five on or around 89 points.