Health, wellbeing, and aging in the Arctic

Arctic communities may have significantly different aging patterns to those in the southern areas of the same country, IIASA research has shown. Using new measures of aging they showed that national policies should be adjusted to take into account these differences. In a second study, the Arctic Futures Initiative looked into variation in wellbeing across the Barents region, emphasizing the importance of education to facing socioeconomic challenges and adapting to climate change in these northern countries.

Population aging has the power to transform small communities in the Arctic, and policies on important social factors, such as care for the elderly, must be designed with this in mind. In a 2016 study, IIASA researchers applied new measures of aging developed at IIASA. Known as “prospective age,” these measures look at the number of years a person has left to live, so a healthy person of 60 years old may have the same prospective age as someone in bad shape at 45. They found that population aging in remote Arctic territories is different, sometimes significantly, from the ‘‘mainland’’ (e.g., Greenland versus Denmark or Nunavut versus Canada). Policies related to aging should be adjusted to the specifics of the Arctic, the researchers conclude, rather than following nationwide patterns [1].

In another study, a member of the Arctic Futures team examined wellbeing in the Barents region, incorporating population, health, education, and environmental factors. In parcticular, they analyzed recent demographic trends across gender and ethnicity, including depopulation, aging, mortality, and fertility. They also investigated the impacts of air and water contamination, food insecurity, housing conditions, and new climate-change driven diseases on the health and living conditions of the Barents people.

The results showed that these factors varied significantly across the Barents region and this variation has been increasing in recent decades, despite efforts to harmonize development in the region [2]. The study also highlighted the importance of education in tackling socioeconomic challenges as well as adapting to climate and other sweeping changes occurring in the Barents region.


[1] Emelyanova A & Rautio A (2016). Population aging in the Arctic: intra-regional variations and the differences with national rates. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 75: 33200.

[2] Emelyanova A & Rautio A (2016). Population diversification in demographics, health, and living environments: the Barents Region in review. In: NGP Yearbook 2016: Geographies of well-being in the North. Eds. Lankila, T. & Tervo-Kankare, K., pp. 3-18 Oulu, Finland: Nordia Geographical Publications.