First global ageing index shows the world is unprepared

On 1 October 2013, the United Nations’ International Day of Older Persons, HelpAge International is launching the Global AgeWatch Index 2013 — the first-ever to measure the quality of life and wellbeing of older people around the world.


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PRESS RELEASE: Strictly embargoed until 00:01am 1 October 2013

Sweden tops list, Eastern Europe sleepwalking into ageing. Money isn’t everything: some low-income countries do well

On 1 October 2013, the United Nations’ International Day of Older Persons, HelpAge International is launching the Global AgeWatch Index 2013 – the first-ever to measure the quality of life and wellbeing of older people around the world. Developed with the support of the United Nations Fund for Population and Development (UNFPA), the Index, which covers 89% of the world’s older people in 91 countries, highlights those countries which are not yet serving the needs of older people. With nearly 900 million people over 60, urgent action is needed to fight poverty in old age and tackle age discrimination and the abuse of older people’s rights.

Silvia Stefanoni, Chief Executive of HelpAge International, said:

“The world is rapidly ageing: people over 60 years of age already exceed children under 5, and by 2050 they will outnumber children under 15. However, the continual exclusion of ageing from national and global agendas is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world’s ageing population. By giving us a better understanding of the quality of life of women and men as they age, this new Index can help us focus our attention on where things are going well and where we have to make improvements.

“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. We will use the Index to compare the lives of older persons in different countries and work through the HelpAge Global Network (of more than a hundred organisations in over 65 countries) to help individual governments to improve the available data and ensure this leads to better policy decisions.”

Data revolution

As a response to the UN Secretary General’s call for a data revolution to better monitor the needs of vulnerable groups previously excluded from data gathering, the Index focuses on older people’s economic security, health, personal capabilities and their enabling environment. It shows the need for better policies and services to improve their lives – especially in developing countries. By 2050 the number of older people will have risen to more than 2 billion: we urgently need better data to develop new ways to tackle global challenges and to empower older people to hold their leaders to account.

Professor Asghar Zaidi, Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton (academic partner in the construction of the Index):

“The Global AgeWatch Index is the beginning of a process in which we gather the available evidence of the lives of older people around the world. It presents, in an accessible and engaging way, a dashboard of indicators that measure the quality of life and wellbeing of older people in a range of different socio-economic contexts. We expect the Index to become an important research and analysis framework for practitioners and policy-makers alike, as it will facilitate cross-national comparative research on the quality of life and wellbeing of older people, and help identify data and knowledge gaps on issues of ageing.”

Sleepwalking into ageing

The Index shows that:

  • 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, suggesting that policy makers need to tackle ageing head on if they are to support their ageing populations.
  • Many Eastern European countries – including Russia and Ukraine – will see their older populations exceed 30% by 2050, but are in the lower half of the Index.

Bruce Campbell, Director of UNFPA’s Technical Division in New York, said:

“The Global AgeWatch Index is a timely intervention in the debate surrounding population ageing. By measuring the social and economic well-being of older persons in 91 countries, the Index is a pioneering and evolving global initiative developed by HelpAge International and welcomed by UNFPA. In the spirit of the global call for the ‘data revolution’ to ‘leave no one behind’ in the post-2015 development framework, we hope that the Index will become a central data tool used by governments, employers, civil society, communities, families and older persons themselves to help ensure an age-friendly world.”

Best and worst

The Index recognises that income, health, personal capabilities and an enabling social environment are all important aspects of the wellbeing of older citizens. By analysing national policies and strategies, the Index finds that:

  • Sweden is the best place for older people – this year it celebrates a century of its state pension.
  • It is closely followed by Norway, with Japan the only non-European and non-North American country in the top 10.
  • Mauritius is the top African country.
  • Chile leads a cluster of Latin American countries that includes Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Uruguay which do well in the Index.
  • The worst place for an older person is Afghanistan. Just above it come Pakistan, Tanzania and Jordan, where a comparison with the Human Development Index shows that the wellbeing of older people is noticeably worse than that of the general population.

The Index does not simply demonstrate the best and worst places for people to grow old, but is a tool to encourage countries to face up to the challenges of their ageing populations – as well as revealing some surprising global and regional comparisons.

Professor Sir Richard Jolly, creator of the Human Development Index, said:

“This ground-breaking Index broadens the way we understand the needs and opportunities of older people through its pioneering application of human development methodology. It challenges countries in every part of the world to raise their sights as to what is possible. The Index will enrich the debate on sustainable development by looking beyond the relationship between investment in ageing and economic growth to how we can support people’s capabilities and choices as they age – for the benefit of all ages.”

Money isn’t everything

GDP per capita, a country’s wealth, does not necessarily lead to better results for older people:

  • The G20 economies are spread right across the full range of the Index.
  • The fastest ageing G20 countries – India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey, where older populations are set to more than double over the next 40 years – are in the bottom half of the Index.
  • The tremendous economic growth of the BRICS countries has not necessarily resulted in benefits for older people: Brazil and China rank relatively high in the Index, while India and Russia fare less well.
  • Sri Lanka at 36 ranks higher than its South Asian neighbour Pakistan, at 89, despite having similar levels of GDP – Sri Lanka scoring significantly higher on age-friendly environment.

John Beard, Director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course, World Health Organization in Geneva, said:

“For resources and investments to be put to best use, there is a need for improved data and the Global AgeWatch Index is a significant step to filling this gap. The Index will invite dialogue on ageing and encourage improved data collection and research into better strategies and practices to meet the needs and life situations of older people. Given the major data limitations that we know exist, the Index is a great achievement and I really welcome it.”

History counts

  • 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.
  • European and North American countries dominate the top of the list as a result of their histories of progressive social policies.

Data gaps

HelpAge has worked with data from a number of international organisations, including the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The construction of the Index has highlighted a serious lack of such data in key areas of the world including Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Over the coming years, we will be pushing for better data sets so that we can include more countries and a greater range of indicators to give a richer and deeper global picture.

The Index is based on how countries address the concerns of their older populations in terms of their income security and health status, their work and education opportunities, as well as their access to an age-friendly environment. The Index supports the provision of these key factors across the whole course of the life of an individual. Today’s younger people are the older people of tomorrow with the same concerns, fears, anxieties and hopes – the best future for all people can be guaranteed by a more diverse and inclusive to policy.


Notes to Editors
1. Download Global AgeWatch Index 2013: insight report:
Summary of the main findings:
Download Russian version of press release (1mb).

2. Available for interview:

  • Silvia Stefanoni, Chief Executive of HelpAge International
  • Professor Asghar Zaidi, Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton (our academic partner in the construction of the Index)
  • Professor Sir Richard Jolly, Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex (creator of the Human Development Index)
  • Regional spokespeople around the globe
  • Older people and Age Demands Action activists in 60 countries

3. Age Demands Action Campaign: Today’s launch of the Global AgeWatch Index coincides with a day of global activism in which more than 100,000 older people from more than 60 countries will be campaigning as part of Age Demands Action (ADA). This global grassroots campaign calls on governments, the international community and civil society to address the rights, concerns, and needs of older people (

The cultural dimension of many of this year’s ADA activities includes: in Dominica, performances calling for better access to cinema and theatre; Lesotho grandmothers presenting art works and songs while children cared for by grandparents perform drama and poetry about their experiences; Colombian campaigners hold a photo exhibition in Congress about the problems faced by older people. Walks also feature: a brass band procession in Ghana and in Indonesia, a memory walk will call for special care for those with dementia.

Activists in about 60 countries will be taking part in this year’s Age Demands Action campaign on 1 October, including Albania, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Dominica, Dominican Republic, DRC, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, Ghana, Grenada, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Macedonia, Moldova, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, St Vincent, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.

4. Global AgeWatch Index ranking table
Sweden 1 Israel 21 Croatia 41 Venezuela 61 Morocco 81
Norway 2 Spain 22 Thailand 42 Poland 62 Honduras 82
Germany 3 Uruguay 23 Peru 43 Kyrgyzstan 63 Montenegro 83
Netherlands 4 Belgium 24 Philippines 44 Serbia 64 West Bank and Gaza 84
Canada 5 Czech Republic 25 Latvia 45 South Africa 65 Nigeria 85
Switzerland 6 Argentina 26 Bolivia 46 Ukraine 66 Malawi 86
New Zealand 7 Italy 27 Bulgaria 47 Korea, Rep. 67 Rwanda 87
United States 8 Costa Rica 28 Romania 48 Dominican Rep 68 Jordan 88
Iceland 9 Estonia 29 Slovak Republic 49 Ghana 69 Pakistan 89
Japan 10 Panama 30 Lithuania 50 Turkey 70 Tanzania 90
Austria 11 Brazil 31 Armenia 51 Indonesia 71 Afghanistan 91
Ireland 12 Ecuador 32 Tajikistan 52 Paraguay 72
United Kingdom 13 Mauritius 33 Vietnam 53 India 73
Australia 14 Portugal 34 Colombia 54 Mongolia 74
Finland 15 China 35 Nicaragua 55 Guatemala 75
Luxembourg 16 Sri Lanka 36 Mexico 56 Moldova 76
Denmark 17 Georgia 37 Cyprus 57 Nepal 77
France 18 Malta 38 Greece 58 Russia 78
Chile 19 Albania 39 El Salvador 59 Lao PDR 79
Slovenia 20 Hungary 40 Belarus 60 Cambodia 80

5. Speed of ageing:

  • Tables showing the speed of ageing of G20 countries in the Index
  • The fastest ageing countries in the Index
  • Those countries whose populations will exceed 30% by 2050 together with Index ranking (green for countries in the top half of the Index and red for countries in the lower half).

6. Population ageing: The result of four-year collaboration between UNFPA and HelpAge, the Index follows the success of last year’s report “Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge “, ( and represents an important next step by measuring global achievements in the field of population ageing.

7. Construction of the Index: The Index provides an overview of the quality of life experienced by older people in 91 countries. A dashboard of thirteen separate indicators has been put together under the four domains of income security, health, education and employment and enabling (age-friendly) environment. Together this information measures the economic, social and political elements that interact to create a healthy environment for later life.

The Global AgeWatch Index has been created because the overall lack of information available on ageing combined with poor understanding of the effects of population ageing is responsible for the exclusion and marginalisation of many millions of older people from basic services, including health, education, training and basic entitlements such as pensions. Such data gaps give rise to serious errors of analysis, policy and programming. HelpAge has developed the Index as a way to:

  • Democratise international data by presenting it in a form that assists governments and policy makers to develop their own solutions.
  • Highlight data gaps in terms of both countries and areas of life relevant to the wellbeing of older people.
  • Broaden policy makers’ understanding of the needs of older people to help us realise the multidimensional nature of later life.
  • Provide countries with a baseline from which to measure future progress and to learn from each other.

The Index is a long-term project to be updated with an annual ‘age’ report focussing on a key trend or element each year. The main target audiences include governments, policy makers, UN agencies, development agencies, HelpAge Affiliates and partners, community organisations and campaign groups, civil society networks and coalitions, older people and the wider general public.

8. Key countries: HelpAge can develop stories, provide case studies and organise media visits to do feature stories related to the Index:

  • Sweden (Number one ranking in Global AgeWatch Index): Exactly one hundred years since Sweden’s first pension. Half of today’s children can expect to live to 100 years old.
  • Netherlands (GAWI 4): Creative, flexible and small-scale age-friendly transport system are being developed.
  • Mauritius (GAWI 33): top African country in the Index has had a universal non-contributory pension since 1958.
  • Bolivia (GAWI 46): Hero of the age revolution – one of the poorest countries benefits from a progressive policy environment for older people
  • Vietnam (GAWI 53): Vietnam faces the challenge of an older population that will more than triple by 2050 to over 30%.
  • South Africa (GAWI 65): Health services for older people have dramatically decreased with the transition to democracy: the country now has just eight registered geriatric doctors.
  • Tanzania (GAWI 90): learning from the neighbours – in 2013 HelpAge organised a study tour to Mauritius for Tanzanian government officials.

HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives.

Contact Attila Kulcsar at HelpAge International’s office in London at email