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The Aging Readiness & Competitiveness Report

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    Canada
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    United States
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    Mexico
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    Brazil
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    United Kingdom
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    Germany
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    Turkey
  • Israel
    Israel
  • South Africa
    South Africa
  • China
    China
  • Korea
    Korea
  • Japan
    Japan
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Canada

Community Social Infrastructure

The majority of older Canadians live independently in their communities, with a higher degree of social connection than their counterparts in most OECD countries. This is partly a result of efforts made by the Canadian government, at both the federal and local levels, to promote age-friendly communities and to fund community-based projects that are tailored to local needs. Accessibility to public transportation and facilities falls short, partly due to the absence of relevant national legislation.

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United States

Community Social Infrastructure

The relatively independent nature of American culture and the tendency for older adults to live alone or with their spouse and away from their children put older adults in the U.S. particularly at risk of social isolation. Limited transportation options and the lack of affordable housing have been identified as leading issues inhibiting connectedness and social interaction. A network of public, private, and community-based service organizations are striving to provide meal delivery and a range of in-home services in an effort to meet the growing and varied needs of the older U.S. population, which is increasingly aging in place.

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Mexico

Community Social Infrastructure

While younger people’s migration to cities has led to changing family dynamics, the traditional multigenerational family structure has remained strong. Mexico still has the largest household size among all OECD countries – an average of nearly four members as of 2015. Outside of families, however, community-support infrastructure is minimal. The Mexican government has established an institution specifically dedicated to the aging population and has given it the responsibility of devising methods for implementing community-based support policies for older adults. While some programs to help older adults access transportation, food, and other basic services exist in urban areas, caregiving and support services for older adults are in short supply, and neither government nor non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have taken significant steps to provide community support for older adults nationwide.

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Brazil

Community Social Infrastructure

With a relatively young population and other development priorities, accommodating aging has not yet become a focus of the Brazilian government. Starting in the 1980s, Brazil put in place a set of legal safeguards to protect the rights of older adults as part of its broader effort to pursue social inclusiveness, but in practice policy implementation has fallen short in areas such as transportation and housing accessibility. However, as the Brazilian population begins to age, and independence increases, support for “active aging” is gaining ground, exhibited by efforts of some local governments, like the state of São Paulo, as well as leading NGOs, to promote age-friendly cities.

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United Kingdom

Community Social Infrastructure

While the British government recognized the importance of social inclusion with a task force dedicated to this issue, this group was abolished in 2010, and the policy area is no longer an explicit focus. NGOs and the private sector have attempted to fill the gap by developing innovative approaches to enhance social inclusion, transportation access, and suitable housing stock. Funding remains a challenge in areas such as transportation, housing retrofits, and winter heating subsidies, but increasing local governments’ ability to raise needed revenue, collaborations between the public and private sectors to foster innovative design, and utilization of technology and digital inclusion are a few of the areas that are being explored to improve the quality of life for older adults in the UK. Many services targeting older adults have devolved from the central government to local authorities, and successive British governments have provided initial funding for programs to “prime the pump” and help create an enabling environment for local governments and organizations to deliver services independently.

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Germany

Community Social Infrastructure

The older population in Germany is highly independent and engaged. Volunteerism is growing, thanks in part to government-sponsored programs that help connect older people with volunteer opportunities that take advantage of their unique experience and skills. Both government and non-government organizations (NGOs) have also used cross-generational interaction as a way to provide community support to older adults. Innovative programs include shared living between older and younger people, and the pairing of nursing homes with elementary schools.

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Turkey

Community Social Infrastructure

A shift toward a nuclear family structure in Turkey is leaving more older adults living independently, but traditional family ties remain strong and continue to enable aging at home. Despite these strong family ties and respect for older adults, negative stereotypes around aging are prevalent in Turkish society. The Turkish government, as well as leading civil societies and non-governmental organizations, have been increasingly focused on cultivating positive perceptions of aging, with the country’s first Active Aging Strategy (2016–2020) expected to come out in 2017.

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Israel

Community Social Infrastructure

Cultural and historical factors have produced a deep respect for older Israelis by the broader society. The current generation of older people (particularly those age 75 and older) played a central role in building the country after its founding in 1948. These cultural values are reflected in the many long-standing programs operated by the government, often in collaboration with NGOs, to enable active aging and community-based engagement. In recent years, they have grown to include a focus on intergenerational connections and the integration of recent immigrants. A variety of government efforts have also been made to improve the accessibility of public facilities and transportation in order to maintain older adults’ independence, but enforcement of relevant regulations needs to be strengthened at the local level.

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South Africa

Community Social Infrastructure

South Africa is struggling to provide community support to older people nationwide, particularly in rural areas. Families remain an important system of support for older adults, the majority of whom live in households composed of extended family members, though the share of older people living alone has increased significantly in the past decade. Due to a lack of national resources and other urgent issues, the government has focused on improving physical infrastructure in housing and transportation, and it has operated indirectly through NGOs to improve community support services.

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China

Community Social Infrastructure

The number of older adults living independently in China is expected to double by 2030. To enable aging in place, the Chinese government has intensified efforts to establish a more age-friendly social infrastructure. An extensive network of community/village recreation centers and schools for older adults has been built nationwide to provide various entertainment and cultural activities, although the distribution density of these facilities remains relatively low in rural areas. The government has also encouraged active aging by promoting volunteer activities.

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Korea

Community Social Infrastructure

Korean society has been rapidly shifting away from its traditional extended family structure to nuclear families, resulting in an increase in the share of older people living independently and contributing to their social isolation and risk of suicide. The government has been responding with programs, including older-age volunteering activities and suicide-prevention programs, with positive results.

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Japan

Community Social Infrastructure

Rapid urbanization and demographic shifts over the last decade have laid the groundwork for a lonely and isolated life for many older people in Japan and provided the impetus to design a more age-friendly social infrastructure that supports the needs and wellness of seniors. Innovative solutions have been developed to utilize existing infrastructure to deliver services and to prevent social isolation. Housing and urban planning projects are incorporating new features to accommodate a healthy and independent older population. One area of weakness is in mobility. While Japan has made great strides, public transportation services in suburban areas and barrier-free facilities in older buildings are still lacking.

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Community Social Infrastructure

Perhaps the most consistent feature of older adults around the world is their strong preference for aging at home. In fact, independent living is on the rise, particularly in developing countries where families are shifting away from multigenerational structures. Our first pillar looks at how countries and communities are ensuring that seniors are able to remain not only independent, but also active and contributing members of their community.

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For each country, we examined efforts to prevent social isolation, to promote social engagement, and to improve accessibility and mobility.

Preventing social isolation can be addressed effectively at both the local and national levels – mobilizing stakeholders in the community, including residents and front-line service providers, as well as leveraging existing resources and infrastructure. Japan, which is at the forefront of this issue, is using its national postal office network to offer routine check-ins for older adults at a minimal cost to families.

Promoting social engagement goes well beyond community centers and classes. Innovative programs are emerging around the world, focused on older community members as a resource to address broader societal challenges. In China, retirees have contributed an estimated USD 1.2 billion through their Silver Action Initiative, and in Israel, the Here We Live program offers students a scholarship and low-cost housing if they live with older homeowners and spend at least five hours together each week.

Accessibility is an area that needs much more work, despite improvements made over time in transportation, public spaces, and housing. While industrialized countries are primarily focused on upgrading existing infrastructure, often by providing financial subsidies, developing countries are well positioned to incorporate agefriendly elements in their ongoing infrastructure development, but thus far have largely failed to take advantage of this opportunity.

Distribution of Population Age 65+ in Rural vs. Urban Areas

  • 1980
  • 1985
  • 1990
  • 1995
  • 2000
  • 2005
  • 2010
  • 2015