Which countries make the most of their older people?

Thursday 30 July 2015

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The Netherlands comes in third place with 40.0 points. Far above the EU average of 28
The Netherlands comes in third place with 40.0 points. Far above the EU average of 28

Advances in health and social welfare in the 20th century ushered in a golden age for humanity. We’re living longer and in better health than ever before. Someone born in London today, for example, could expect to live 30 years longer than a counterpart did in 1900 – and will have access to pensions as well as universal healthcare provisions.

These advances have been a victim of their own success, however, and the downside is that ageing populations mean more pressure on resources, particularly on pensions and healthcare.

Amid all of this, we often overlook the idea that the new generation of older persons are a powerful resource. As a healthier group, they have the potential to contribute to not just their own well-being but also to sustain a greater economic and social prosperity for society as a whole.

Central to this is the idea of active and healthy ageing – the process of opening up opportunities and participation for older people and making quality of life better. As the World Health Organisation says: “Active” refers to continuing participation in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic affairs, not just the ability to be physically active or to participate in the labour force.

For older people, active ageing means growing older in good health and as a full member of society, feeling more fulfilled in jobs and in social engagements, more independent in their daily lives and more engaged as citizens. But this can’t happen successfully without help from governments – and at national as well as at local community level. This involves policy measures such as increasing financial security, age-friendly infrastructures and weaving these into the social fabric.

Which countries are doing best?

At the University of Southampton they’ve been working on the Active Ageing Index (AAI), a tool that monitors progress across European countries. We use it to assess the untapped potential among older people using 22 indicators that are grouped in four domains: employment, social participation, independent living and capacity for active ageing.

The latest AAI report shows how far healthy and active life during old age has become a reality for many in the current generation of older Europeans. The affluent Nordic and western European countries come out at the top of the AAI ranking. Sweden tops the table, while the Netherlands comes third. These high positions are in large part because of policies that sustain employment levels among older workers who are reaching retirement and also the provision for income security in their retired population.

 

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