If you’ve always dreamt about spending your retirement years somewhere in a Caribbean, now is the time to re-examine your thoughts, as Canada ranked 5th in a list of the best countries in the world to grow old in. According to the the Global AgeWatch Index, developed by the United Nations Population Fund in cooperation with HelpAge International, a global advocacy group for seniors, the quality of life of our seniors is top-notch – we were only surpassed by Sweden (which topped the list), Norway, Germany and Netherlands. The top ten list also included the U.S., Japan and Switzerland. On the other hand, the study put unstable Afghanistan to the very bottom of the list.
The report evaluated the social and economic well-being of elders in 91 countries around the world, based on four main domains:
- Income security – access to a sufficient amount of income, and the capacity to use it independently, in order to meet basic needs in older age
- Health status – information about physical and psychological wellbeing
- Employment and education – aspects of empowerment of older people
- Enabling environment – seniors’ perception of social connectedness, safety, civic freedom and access to public transport.
Waterton Lakes National Park by James Wheeler
The index creators have ambitious goals, as they claim that the survey is part of what the UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon calls a “data revolution”: a concept that ensures that no one is left behind in the development strategies. The Global AgeWatch Index is world’s first comprehensive study that attempts to deal with situation of older people, who have been systematically overlooked in public policy provisions and development plans until these days. According to HelpAge, we cannot afford ignoring such an important group of people any longer and as John Beard, Director of Ageing and Life Course for the World Health Organization said, creating the clear statistical data is the only way how to bring decison-makers' attention to the problem.
The need for decent analyses is increasing especially due to rapid aging on the global scale – it is expected that by 2050, the number of people over 60 will outnumber kids under age 15. When talking specifically about Canada, Statistics Canada estimates while in 2012, about 5.2 million Canadians are 65 years or older, the figure is about to double over the next 25 years’ time.
Canada in focus
Now, let’s take a closer look at our favourable ranking. How did we get to number five?
Our strongest asset proved to be hidden in the health domain of the index, as Canada ranked second overall here (just behind Switzerland). We boast good results in life expectancy, as well as in the special index of life expectancy in good health. For illustration, Canadians live without major health issues on average 18.3 years beyond the age of 60, compared to only 18.2 years in Sweden, which scored best overall. We also did excellent on relative psychological/mental wellbeing of seniors, as percentage of people over 50 who feel that their life has meaning compared with people aged 35-49 who feel the same, reached top score: 100 per cent. Experts agree with the results here - even though we like to complain about our health system, the truth is that it works relatively well and belongs to the most innovative ones in the world.
The Vancouver skyline from Stanley Park by James Wheeler
Canada also does well in employment prospects and education levels among the older people as well as enabling societies and environment domain, both ranking 9th in the list. Employment prospects measured how easy it is to access a labour market for population aged 55 to 64, pointing to an important proxy for the economic empowerment of the elderly. Education measured percentage of population over 60 with secondary or higher education – Canada scored 83.9 per cent here. Concerning the environment and enabling societies segment, our greatest strength lies in civic freedom satisfaction and good social interconnectedness of seniors with their relatives and friends. On the other hand, there’s space for improvement in a category assessing access to public transport, as only 65 per cent of people over 50 claimed they are satisfied with local public transportation system.
Besides all the good results, Canada did poorest in income security segment, ranking 26th in the overall list. Even though 78 per cent of Canadians are entitled to receive a pension, European countries like Netherlands, Sweden and Norway provide wider pension schemes that can be accessed at a younger age. The research has also shown that about 4.4 per cent of people aged 60+ face the threat of poverty, since their income makes up to less than half the country's median income. Marie from Montreal, aged 73, commented on the data.
"I can't complain about my pension, but it's a shame that there are people out there, who have to rely on their families' help. Canada is wealthy enough to provide at least a minimum pension to all the citizens, regardless of their previous work."
The provincial and federal governments are constantly arguing with the employers and the experts about how to improve the system, but spreading it to everyone doesn't seem viable at the moment. The biggest topic that's being discussed in the moment is whether and how to increase the contributions to the Canada Pension Plan system, so that we don't see so many workers, who simply can't afford to retire. Let's see where that takes us within following months.
Even though older people in Canada enjoy relatively high quality of life (scoring 26th is not a disaster after all), offering more social security could become an important step of the policy-makers to ensuring more stable and stress-free autumn of life. Maybe we could learn from the example of the European countries, which introduced universal pensions and ended up with happier and healthier population, without causing harm to the national economy.
Balfour Park in downtown Toronto by PatTorfe
Another result that should be viewed as a wake up call concerns access to the public transport system for the elderly - only 65 per cent of people over 50 are satisfied with their local public transportation systems (just to give you a perspective - even the U.S. beat us with 67 per cent satisfaction). Since we can't evaluate more specific stats that lead to the result, we can only speculate that while people in Canada like to boast about the public transport systems in the cities, we tend to forget about smaller towns and villages that, let's face it, often don't have any public transport at all.
"I have a few friends who stopped driving because they don't feel safe behind the wheel anymore. And yes, they mostly rely on friends and family. And taxis, of course."
Not being able to access well-organized public transport scheme results in dependency on other people, wasting money on taxis and, in the worst case, social isolation. None of these should be happening in our country and 65 per cent of satisfied people is a shame. We should all pressure the authorities to establish easy-to reach public transport or at least start a city service that might benefit the elderly and other people, who might have problems with easy movement. Maybe a system of subsidized taxis or microbuses for the ones who need them might do the job.
What do you think? Are Canadian elderly so well-off? And what improvements should we make to move from number five to one of the leading positions?