Space & Innovation

Best and Worst Places to Grow Old

The golden years can be glittering or glum depending on where you live.

Thanks to improvements in nutrition, sanitation and medical technology, the global population is getting older. Although life expectancy is rising worldwide, the golden years aren't exactly glittering everywhere.

Using data available to provide a picture of quality of life for the elderly in 91 countries, the Global AgeWatch Index assessed 13 different indicators across four key categories: income security, health status, education and employment and enabling an environment in which seniors can live independent lives.

Take a look at the top 10 best and worst countries to grow old.

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Sweden topped the list as the best place for seniors to live out their retirement. The Scandinavian nation placed in the top 10 for all four categories measured in the Global AgeWatch Index.

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Norway, Sweden's neighbor, came in second on the list of the best places to grow old. Of the countries included in the Global AgeWatch Index, Norway has the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.

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Coming in third in the list overall, Germany placed the highest in the Global AgeWatch Index of all G.20 nations. Similarly, Germany ranks highly in the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI), which indexes nations according to life expectancy, income and education across all age groups.

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The Netherlands came in fourth on the list of the best places to grow old. All nations in the top four slots had some of the lowest income disparities of the countries measured in the index.

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As the fifth best place to grow old in the world, Canada is also the top North American nation to live out retirement. Canada ranked in the top 10 in three of the four categories measured in the index, with its health care provisions for seniors being ranked second in the world.

Ranking sixth in the Global AgeWatch Index, Switzerland holds the top spot for the "health status" category, which looks at overall health at age 60, life expectancy after 60 and psychological well-being.

Coming in seventh overall, New Zealand is the top country in the Southern Hemisphere to grow old. Although older people in New Zealand have relatively low incomes compared to their counterparts in other developed nations, the country also has some of the lowest poverty rates among retirees, which the report credit in part to "a government focus on pension adequacy rather than a strong link between pensions and earnings."

The United States comes in eighth place on the Global AgeWatch Index. Although the United States spends more on health care than any other country, it places 36 within the "health status" category. The United States did come in second, however, on the "employment and education" category for enabling professional and academic opportunities for seniors.

Iceland comes in ninth place on the list, making it the third Nordic nation within the top 10. Among the four domains measured in the index, Iceland had its highest rankings for providing an environment in which seniors can flourish, which means ensuring their safety, offering public transportation options and more.

The first Asian country on the list, Japan closes out the top 10. The island nation has the highest percentage of seniors of any country on Earth, with 31.6 percent of its population age 60 or higher. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 41.5 percent.

Honduras ranks as the tenth worst place in the world to grow old. The Latin American nation places particularly poorly in income inequality (88 out of 91 countries measured), employment opportunities (74), and enabling an environment in which seniors can thrive.

Montenegro comes in as number nine on the worst place to grow old, and is the lowest-ranking European country on the list. Although Montenegro fares better than many other higher-ranking nations on certain variables like income inequality, the Balkan nation is near bottom in providing professional and educational opportunities for seniors.

The West Bank and Gaza rank eighth as the least hospitable place on Earth to grow old, placing particularly poorly in the "employment and educational opportunities" domain (86).

The 10th most oil-rich nation in the world and the most affluent country on the African continent, Nigeria ranks as the seventh least accommodating place on the globe for seniors. Income inequality and poor health provisions for seniors dragged the West African nation down the list.

Given that Malawi is among one of the world's least developed countries, with the majority of the population still relying on subsistence farming, it should perhaps not be surprising that the country ranks so poorly in how it cares for its seniors. Malawi ranks sixth as the worst country to grow old.

The fifth least hospitable place on Earth to grow old, Rwanda is a nation still healing from the 1994 genocide that cost the lives of between 500,000 and a million people. Like Malawi, a majority of the population relies on subsistence farming to survive.

Jordan comes in as the fourth worst place to grow old. Only three Middle Eastern countries were included in the index, with Israel ranking the highest as the 21st best country on Earth for seniors.

The third least accommodating country on Earth to grow old, Pakistan is the nation least able to provide an environment in which the elderly can feel secure and live independent lives.

Tanzania, the second-worst place on Earth to grow old, also has the highest levels of inequality of any country measured on the Global AgeWatch Index. African countries generally performed poorly across the index, with Mauritius ranking the highest at 33.

Anyone who has been paying any attention at all to the news for the last decade or so probably could have guessed that Afghanistan is the worst nation on Earth for older people, according to the index. The central Asian country comes in the bottom 10 across all categories except income inequality.