If you are 65 years old in Panama, you can expect to live 14 additional years in good health and free of poverty. This is 9 years more than in Honduras, and 4 years above the average for Latin American and Caribbean countries. In a recent study, we calculate this measure of older persons’ quality of life for all the countries of the region. See how your country compares to the others in Figure 1 of the report.
Our analysis shows that quality of life is higher in countries that have the best social protection systems for their older persons. That is, in countries that have good pensions, healthcare, and long-term care systems, people enjoy six additional years in good health and free of poverty relative to countries with poor pension, healthcare, and long-term care systems (see the Figure below). That is a remarkable difference!
Differences also exist within countries, for example between women and men. Women have a lower quality of life than men because, although they live longer healthy lives, they are much more likely to be poor. On average, in the countries of the region, women’s healthy and poverty-free life expectancy is one year shorter than men.
Social protection is fundamental in determining older persons’ quality of life. As people age, pensions tend to become the main source of income. The need for healthcare increases, with a focus on prevention and long-term management of chronic conditions like diabetes. About one in six people needs help performing daily activities, like eating or bathing, creating the need for long-term care. If this is not available or affordable, the responsibility falls on families, particularly on women, reducing their availability to work and negatively affecting their physical and emotional health.
How does the level of social protection vary among the countries of the region?
Here are 3 takeaways:
- Many pension systems provide low benefits. The highest values are in El Salvador, Paraguay, Colombia, Uruguay, and Brazil, where pensions represent more than 50% of average wages.
- Despite progress towards universal coverage, there are challenges when it comes to effective access; moreover, the quality of healthcare services is often poor and uneven, especially for managing chronic health conditions. Chile and Costa Rica have the highest scores of the Access and Quality Index, at 78 and 74, respectively – which is still significantly lower than the OECD average of 86.
- Publicly funded long-term care services have low coverage and quality. Argentina and Costa Rica stand out as the countries with the highest coverage, with services reaching an estimated 20% of the older persons who need long-term care. Most countries have weak quality standards and regulation and control mechanisms. Human resource policies are scarce, including those to train paid and family caregivers.
See how your country’s pensions, healthcare, and long-term care services compare to those in other countries in Table 3.3 of the report
An additional challenge is that the population of the region is aging very rapidly. This will increase spending on pensions, healthcare, and long-term care for the older population. Without reforms, this expenditure will grow from 7% of GDP in 2020 to 14% of GDP in 2050. Fiscal pressures may lead some countries to reduce the benefits of these systems, with a risk of compromising the quality of life of their older population.
To avoid this situation, countries will be called to reform their social protection systems, making them more efficient and equitable. It is important to note that some of these policies represent an economic opportunity. For example, those that promote longer productive lives, or those that have the potential to generate millions of formal jobs through the development of the care economy, which is an important part of the Silver Economy. In order to promote sustainable reforms of social protection systems, it will be crucial to make the most of innovative solutions that come from private sector companies, including start-ups, and from civil society.
How is the quality of life of the older persons in your country? How are pensions, healthcare and long-term care services for this population? And how are the public sector, the private sector, and civil society working together to innovate in social protection?