Where in the world would you want to age? According to a comprehensive new study by the group HelpAge International, you want to live your golden years in…Sweden.
True, it’s cold. Really cold. But based on more than a dozen key indicators, including income security, health status, employment and education, and ability to live independently, Northern European countries such as Sweden, Norway and Germany rank highest.
Overall, the U.S. ranks eighth, just behind New Zealand and ahead of Iceland. That’s not bad, but by some measures it ranks relatively low. For instance, the U.S. comes in at just 24th in health status for those 60 and older and a dismal 36th (of 91) in income security.
By contrast, older Americans enjoy relatively good employment and educational opportunities in the U.S., which ranks second in the world by this measure. When it comes to indicators of independent living (which the group calls an enabling environment), the U.S. ranks 16th—roughly equal to France and the United Kingdom.
Not surprisingly, wealthy industrialized countries do best in these rankings. Those torn by poverty or civil strife, such as Pakistan and Tanzania, do very poorly. Afghanistan ranks dead last.
Because the survey focuses on indicators such as public pensions and public transportation, it tilts towards countries that put a high priority on social welfare. Thus, northern Europe scores very high while the U.S. ranks only moderately high.
The report includes some results that seem questionable. For instance, it finds that 90 percent of Americans over 50 “have relatives or friends they can count on when in trouble.” I wonder how many feel they’ll have the support they’ll need when they become frail and need more intensive services.
Similarly, it reports that two-thirds of Americans over 50 are satisfied with their local public transportation systems. But how many regularly try to use their local bus or subway in old age? Certainly not two-thirds.
And it does ignore indicators such as weather (not trivial for many seniors) and access to community (rather than government) services.
Still, the study is a useful benchmark that tells us that while aging in the U.S. is better than in much of the world, we can do a lot better.