What is the best country to live in for older people?
8th January 2020
In the grand scheme of things, the UK has got it pretty good. There’s certainly a lot to be thankful for. But how does the UK compare to other countries as a place to live in for older people? The UK has plenty of wonderful accessible attractions to visit for those who use stairlifts at home but how does it fare on a broader scale? There’s a lot to consider when answering such a question, from the quality of health care to how high the life expectancy is.
Well, the answer is now available. By using a combination of different datasets, including the cost of living and the age which you can collect a pension, a definitive ranking of each nation has been made. Read on below to see how the UK ranks and to discover which is the best country for older people to live in! The results are fascinating and are presented in the sortable table below. The full methodology is also available for understanding how the rankings were compiled.
What’s the best country for older people to live in?
|Life Expectancy in years
(Higher is better)
|Health Care Index
(Higher is better)
(Lower is better)
(Higher is Better)
|Cost of Living Index
(Lower is better)
(Higher is better)
(Lower is better)
|United Arab Emirates||78||66.13||1.74||6.83||63.6||2.51||49||18|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||77.4||52.35||2.42||5.39||36.2||0.99||65||61|
|Trinidad and Tobago||73.5||-||2.79||6.19||54.2||-||65||85|
The findings certainly reveal some compelling results. Through ranking each country across a range of data pertinent to what makes life better for older people, it has been revealed that Finland is the best country for older people to live in.
What are the 10 best countries to live in for older people?
- New Zealand
As you can see, there was a solid performance from the Nordic countries – perhaps something that won’t surprise all that many. Finland is the overall winner, however, thanks to a top place in the happiest countries index and its impressive performance across the board.
Tamara from the travel blog Girlswanderlust has fond memories of visiting Finland and said she was not surprised by Finland’s top ranking as she thinks “Finland is a very safe and well-developed country. The quality of healthcare is good in Finland, which makes it a perfect country to live in for older people.”
Tamara also commented on whether Finland would be a country she would consider suggesting her parents/grandparents to visit: “Absolutely! I love Finland as a travel destination: the locals are kind and hospitable, the country is very safe, and it has a lot of beautiful places to offer! I would definitely bring my parents and grandparents to Finland, as I know they'd love this destination too.”
Cory from the travel blog You Could Travel thinks so highly of Finland that she actually wants her parents to move there: “Because it's so peaceful, naturally, Finland makes a great place for the elderly. It's quiet, naturally stunning, with lakes and forests, I cannot imagine a better place for retirement. However, Finland can be quite cold during winter, but if you are a winter person like we are, Finland is ideal. We wish our parents and grandparents would move to Finland so we can visit them all the time.”
What are the 10 worst countries to live in for older people?
- Dominican Republic
Coming in last place as the worst country to live in for older people was, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the war-torn situation of the country, Iraq. It finished in last place in terms of safety and near the bottom in terms of health care.
Kenya also gave a poor performance across the categories, finishing in second to last place with only Iraq being named as a worse country for older people to live in. Poor life expectancy and an unimpressive performance in other categories let it down.
The datasets* used to create a ranking of each country were: life expectancy, health care index score, societal safety score (global peace index), happiness index score, cost of living index score, property prices index score, and a nation’s retirement age** (when you can claim a state pension).
Certain countries were not included in the ranking if data did not exist for five or more categories. Where data was missing for a category, the score is left blank and the final rankings take this into account.
As 105 countries qualified, first position in each category was given 105 points and last position was given 1 point. If countries finished in the same position, they were given the same amount of points.
Each country was allocated a maximum possible score based on the number of categories that data was present for. The nations were then ranked by percentage of that maximum possible score. For example, Finland had a maximum score of 707 points and their final score was 602. Therefore, the percentage of the maximum possible score is 85.15%.
Sources: Our World in Data (Life expectancy), Numbeo (Health Care Index), Global Peace Index (Societal Safety), World Happiness Report, Numbeo (Cost of Living Index), Numbeo (Property Prices Index), Pension Watch
*It is indicated in the above table how the different datasets should be viewed, such as high life expectancy = good, and low pension age = good.
**A country’s retirement age was sourced from elsewhere if data wasn’t available on Pension Watch.
How does the UK compare to other countries?
The United Kingdom finished in 17th place overall, indicating a solid performance, positioning itself among the top nations in the world when it comes to places to live for older people. But while 17th isn’t a poor result, there is certainly room for improvement.
The UK finished above the likes of France and Japan but below other nations such as Canada, New Zealand, Austria, and, of course, Finland. The UK came above the USA (which finished down in 28th place) but also finished below some nations you might not expect, such as Qatar (flying high in 14th).
The UK’s 17th ranking in the world is a fair reflection of where it places in the different categories, for example, life expectancy is a few years off the pace. The cost of living in the country is perhaps its poorest result, however, it’s certainly not alone among developed nations in terms of high prices.
The specifics of where the UK ranked and how it performed in each category is discussed later in this breakdown but it’s clear that the UK can certainly make improvements in areas that will continue to impact the wellbeing and happiness of older people.
Kathy Lawrence, the editor of When They Get Older – a site dedicated to helping families support ageing loved ones - has discussed her take on these findings and what the UK can do to climb the rankings: “This is a fascinating report and it’s not really surprising that the UK isn’t at the top of the league of good places for older people to live. If we want to move up those rankings, we need to look at a huge range of factors, including the funding and structure of health and social care, and society’s attitudes to older people. As our population ages, we have to do more than talk about it.
“There is some great work going on in planning for a better future for older citizens. Building homes that suit both the more and less mobile can help people to continue to live independently. We need to look at how to help people get around our towns and cities while educating them for a world that is mostly online. And we need to tackle this huge problem of loneliness. There has been some brilliant initiatives already, like taking young pupils into nursing homes. Bringing generations together rather than isolating them is a real step forward.”
Heather Cowper, a seasoned traveller from the over 50s travel blog Heather on Her Travels, has noticed a difference in how the UK treats its older populace compared to other nations: “I feel that in the UK we don't have so much respect for our elders as in some other countries and there's definitely a difference in mindset about how they should be cared for as elders become infirm. In the Mediterranean countries, it seems more likely for elderly relatives to be cared for at home within the extended family, and the idea of older relatives living in a care home is seen as a failure or less loving solution.”
What country has the best life expectancy?
When looking at factors that should be taken into consideration when determining the best countries to live in for older people, life expectancy has to be on the list. The average life expectancy is a reflection on many areas, including health care and how safe a nation is. If a country has a high life expectancy, it is safe to say that this is a good place for older people to live.
The five countries with the highest life expectancy
- Hong Kong
The research conducted has revealed that Hong Kong has the highest life expectancy in the rankings, with an average age of 84.9 yrs. However, Monaco (who doesn’t appear in the rankings due to insufficient data in other categories) has the highest life expectancy in the world at 86.
The five countries with the lowest life expectancy
- South Africa
Right at the bottom of the rankings is Nigeria with a life expectancy of 54.7 - well below the average life expectancy around the world of 70. When taking into account countries who did not figure in the overall rankings, the Central African Republic has the lowest life expectancy in the world at 53 years old.
What is the life expectancy in the UK?
With an average life expectancy of 81 years, it is well placed in the rankings, above the likes of Denmark (80 yrs.), the USA (78 yrs.), and level with overall rankings leaders Finland (81 yrs.). However, the UK is a few years behind the best countries in the world.
What country has the best health care?
As people age, the quality of health care naturally becomes more important, and, as such, it was an important factor to consider when ranking the best countries for older people to live in. To help with comparing the systems of the world, Numebo’s Health Care Index lists each country by the overall quality of the health care system, taking into account equipment, health care professionals, doctors, cost, etc.
The five countries with the best health care
- South Korea
Taiwan is a country that many might be surprised to see flying high in this category but with an index score of 86.89, here it is, above the world’s global powers. Taiwan has a government-administered insurance-based national healthcare system. It is known for its short waiting times, comprehensive coverage, and relatively low costs.
The five countries with the worst health care
Coming in last position is the North African country Morocco. There are two healthcare systems in Morocco – private and governmental. The poor quality of care is well known, with patients of government hospitals required to pay for equipment such as sterile syringes and bandages. Late diagnoses are another unfortunate feature of Morocco’s health care scene.
How good is health care in the UK?
How does the UK’s NHS compare to the other health care systems? According to the Health Care Index, the UK finishes in 13th place, so a few places behind the best in the world but beating the likes of Germany and Canada.
What country is the safest to live in?
Safety is an especially important consideration to be made when comparing places to live for those of any age. For older people, it can be of imperative importance. The safety index compares countries over a range of factors including their crime rates, frequency of violent demonstrations, the stability of their political scene and more.
The five safest countries
- 1. Iceland
- 2. Singapore
- 3. Norway
- 4. Switzerland
- ~5. Denmark
- ~5. Japan
Found to be the safest country in the world and also the most peaceful was Iceland. Having held this position for over ten years now, Iceland stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to levels of peace.
Talking about safety, Stefania from Every Steph spoke about her experience in both Iceland and Singapore: “In my experience, both Iceland and Singapore feel extremely safe. In Iceland even Reykjavik, the capital, has a small-town feeling, people are friendly and happy to help. It’s the perfect country for solo female travellers. The main danger in Iceland comes from driving some pretty treacherous roads, so only do that if you are an experienced driver.
“Singapore almost feels like a utopic city. It’s clean, efficient, and extremely safe. The laws in Singapore are very strict and people follow the rules. The streets are lit up at night, and there is plenty of police around, so there are no issues with going out at night alone.”
The five least safe countries
- 1. Iraq
- 2. Syria
- 3. Venezuela
- 4. Colombia
- ~5. South Africa
- ~5. Nigeria
The countries coming at the bottom of this category will be known to many as nations that are currently working through political crisis and war so it will be no surprise to most that they have been deemed some of the least safe in the world.
How safe is the UK?
But how safe is the UK? Coming in at 28th on the list shows that although it is not one of the safest countries in the world, it is certainly in the top tier. The UK benefits from generally very peaceful societal safety and security which is reflected in the crime rate index.
What country has the happiest population?
Every year the United Nations release the World Happiness Report. Although many of the other factors we’ve looked at have a factual bearing on someone’s experience in a country, the Happiness Index is a great indicator of residents’ life satisfaction levels.
The five happiest countries
- 1. Finland
- 2. Denmark
- 3. Norway
- ~4. The Netherlands
- ~4. Iceland
- 5. Switzerland
Anyone who was previously aware of the Happiness Index will likely know that Scandinavian countries consistently top the list and 2019 was no different. Interestingly though, the happiness rankings are very similar to the final rankings, with four of the five happiest countries also making the top five countries for older people to live in.
Varpu from Her Finland, the go-to site for travelling in Finland and getting to know Finnish culture, spoke about her thoughts on Finland as a place for older people to live: “My grandmother is my inspiration. She is the most positive and resourceful person I know. And, there are so many happy older people just like her in Finland. Hands down, my favourite phrase by my granny is “Now that I’m getting old…”. She is 82.
“She takes good care of her health, loves her allotment garden (another cool Finnish thing), makes delicious healthy meals and learns something new every day, thanks to the clever and modern use of offline and online events happening all the time in Finland. I think the last thing is the key. To be active!
“In Finland, you have so many ways to be creative and learn new stuff. For example, merely in Helsinki, there are tons of free activities and programs every day to learn about new things, such as AI, literature, art and culture. If you can’t make it, listen to an interesting podcast or watch the live stream. On the other hand, in the countryside, the forests offer calming and restorative experiences for any age.”
Norway came in as the third happiest country in the world and came 8th in the overall rankings. Lisa from Fjords and Beaches, a resident of Norway, gave her thoughts: “I definitely believe that Norway being one of the world’s happiest countries make it a great place for older people to live. Not only is it very safe, but considering that medical care is free, it provides peace of mind for older people (and younger, to be honest) that greatly contributes to their overall happiness. Knowing that you do not have to worry about the costs of medicine, hospital stays (if necessary), or even the cost of staying in a nursing/retirement home is something I believe will make most people very happy.”
The five least happy countries
There are many reasons a country might find itself at the bottom of the Happiness Index. Although Syria was the lowest-ranked of the countries we’ve looked at, there were six countries that performed worse than it in the Index: Malawi, Yemen, Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
How happy is the UK?
The UK came an impressive 14th in the Happiness Index. This is a great improvement even over a small amount of time, as in the 2010-2012 Happiness Index, the United Kingdom came further down the list at 22nd.
What country has the cheapest cost of living?
Getting the most for your money is great. And it can be a real treat when you’re living somewhere where the cost of living is low, allowing you to enjoy more of what life has to offer. The cost of living index examines things like the price of shopping, dining out and more to find out an average cost of living for each country.
The five countries with the cheapest cost of living
The countries topping this category are some of the countries that have been at the bottom of others. So, although they may have a cheap cost of living, you have to examine why exactly that is and whether the cheap prices outweigh other factors.
The five most expensive cost of living
Contrary to the top of this list, the countries that came in the bottom places here have been very successful in other categories. So, it seems a low cost of living, although a bonus, can’t be used as the sole qualifier for whether a country is nice to live in for older people.
How expensive is the UK?
Cost of living was the UK’s weakest category by far and is what held it from being higher in this list. Ranking at 82nd, it has the 24th most expensive cost of living in the world. Ultimately though, this result is not so shocking, as one of the most developed countries in the world, it is to be expected that the cost of living will be higher overall.
What country has the most affordable property prices?
Offering a comparative ranking of property prices around the world, the Affordability Index examines the price of housing in each country in relation to the average income. By comparing average housing prices to the average income, it gives a relative ranking of the property prices.
The five countries with the lowest property prices in relation to income
- 1. Saudi Arabia
- 2. United States
- 3. United Arab Emirates
- 4. Belgium
- ~5. South Africa
- ~5. Finland
Although it may be surprising to many, due to the incredibly high income of the country, Saudi Arabia’s housing comes out on top as the most affordable. Following behind is the USA, and again, although house prices may not be the cheapest in the world, the high-income opportunities balance this out to make them affordable.
The five countries with the highest property prices in relation to income
At the other end of the scale are countries that, although they may have lower-priced housing, have lower average incomes. So, for those who actually live in these countries, the housing prices are extortionate rather than low, contrary to what those looking in from the outside might believe.
How affordable is property in the UK?
When looking at the property prices index, the UK’s property prices come in as the 26th best in the world. So, although expensive, property in the UK is very reasonable for the average income for residents compared to elsewhere in the world.
What country has the earliest retirement age?
However much someone loves their job, there comes a time to hang up the belt and retire. Having the opportunity to do this earlier in life is a bonus for all. Even if it’s not taken up straight away, an early retirement allows people to spend their later years doing whatever it is they love the most.
The countries with the earliest retirement ages
- 1. United Arab Emirates
- 2. Cambodia
- 3. Colombia
- ~4. Qatar
- ~4. Jordan
- ~4. Pakistan
- ~4. Belarus
- ~4. Vietnam
- ~4. Uzbekistan
- ~4. Syria
- ~4. Venezuela
- ~4. Iraq
- ~4. Mongolia
Topping the list easily is the United Arab Emirates, where residents of the country are able to retire and start claiming their pension at 49. That’s 16 years younger than the UK! There is a catch however, expatriate residents have to wait until they are 60 to start claiming (which is still five years younger than the UK.)
The countries with the highest retirement ages
- ~1. Bulgaria
- ~1. Albania
- ~1. Indonesia
- ~1. Uruguay
- ~1. Nepal
- ~1. Argentina
- ~1. El Salvador
At the other end of the scale are seven countries which have retirement ages of 70. Located all over the world, there is no clear indicator as to why the pension ages of these countries are so high, but residents in them will have to work five more years than workers in the UK.
What is the retirement age in the UK?
Like 37 other countries, the UK’s average retirement age of 65 came in as the 14th lowest age in the world. This is 16 years older than the winning UAE but only 5 years younger than the countries with the oldest retirement age - 70.
Making life easier for older people
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Well, there you have it. The answer to which country is the best to live in for older people has finally been revealed. The results are conclusive, with Finland and Denmark taking the top two places! It will be interesting to see how the rankings might change over time. Hopefully, the UK can look at the areas where there is room for improvement and climb the table a little.
The older generations are so important to the fabric of a nation, they are a link to the past and are the font of so much wisdom. It’s therefore crucial that countries do as much as is possible to make life enjoyable, safe, and comfortable for them. It’s the least they deserve.
If you are looking at how to make life easier for an older member of the family, installing a stair lift at their house should certainly be considered.
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.