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World urged to help the elderly

Richard Connor
October 1, 2013

A UN-backed study has found that most countries are not ready to support their aging populations and changing demographics. The study judged Sweden, Norway and Germany to be the best places for older people to live.

An elederly lady points with her index finger into a largely empty coin purse, containing only small-denomination euro coins. (Taken in Berlin, 16.10.10 -- photo: Jens Kalaene dpa/lhe)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The report issued by the United Nations and the elder rights group HelpAge International on Tuesday ranked the social and economic welfare of elderly people in 91 countries.

Billed as the first comprehensive collection of data on factors such as health, income and the way in which older people are empowered, the Global AgeWatch Index said most were not prepared for the challenge of ensuring a secure future for older citizens.

“A running thread is that action in the key areas of income security and health is essential,” said the report's summary.

At the top of the index was Sweden. Tribute was paid to the high level of membership of the country's five national pensioners' organizations, which were credited with acting as strong advocates for older peoples' rights.

Norway was second in the rankings, having the highest labor market participation of older citizens, at 68 percent.

While Germany came in at number three, compilers sounded a note of caution about reduced pension levels in recent years, adding that they were expected to fall further.

North Americans were also found to fare well, with Canada in fifth place and the US in eighth. South American countries, where demographic aging is already advanced and which face a doubling of their population by 2050, also featured strongly in the top 30.

Within Europe, Ukraine (ranked at 66), Russia (78) and Montenegro (83) scored particularly poorly.

The release coincides with the UN's International Day of Older Persons. Among the sources used to build up the data were the World Health Organization and the World Bank. Those behind the study say that a lack of information on the issue has stifled efforts to put the interest of senior citizens on the political agenda.

"Unless you measure something, it doesn't really exist in the minds of decision-makers," said John Beard, Director of Ageing and Life Course for the World Health Organization. "One of the challenges for population aging is that we don't even collect the data, let alone start to analyze it.”

Bottom of the survey was Afghanistan, which offers no pension to those not employed by the government. Life expectancy is just 59 years for men and 61 for women, significantly below the global average of 68 for men and 72 for women, according to UN data.