Press Releases

    Note to Correspondents

    Note No 5713
    1 March 2002


    NEW YORK, 28 February (DESA) -– The most up-to-date and comprehensive statistics available on global population ageing will be announced today at the noon briefing of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General. The statistics, produced by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will be explained by Joseph Chamie, Director of the Population Division.

    The new data are key indicators, such as the number and percentage of older persons, life expectancy at age 60, statutory retirement age, the percentage of older people in the labour force, the potential support ratio, and the percentage of the older population currently married. This new data is an important contribution to the preparations for the Second World Assembly on Ageing, to be held in Madrid from 8 to 12 April.

    Today, one of every 10 persons is 60 years old or over, totalling 629 million people worldwide. By 2050, the United Nations projects that one of every five persons will be 60 or older, and that by 2150 this ratio will be one of every three persons. By 2050, the actual number of people over the age of 60 is projected to be almost 2 billion, at which point the population of older persons will outnumber children (0-14 years).

    The older population is itself ageing. Currently, the oldest old, those 80 years or older, make up 12 per cent of the population over 60. In fact, it is this segment that is the fastest growing of the older population. It is estimated that by 2050, 21 per cent of the older population will be aged 80 years or older, and it is projected that the number of centenarians, people aged 100 years or older, will increase 15-fold from approximately 210,000 in 2002 to 3.2 million people by 2050.

    The world has experienced dramatic improvements in terms of longevity. Life expectancy at birth has climbed about 20 years since 1950, to its current level of 66 years. Of those surviving to age 60, men can expect to live another 17 years and women an additional 20 years. But large differences in mortality levels exist between countries. In the least developed countries, men reaching age 60 can expect only 15 more years of life and women 16 years. In the more developed regions, on the other hand, life expectancy at age 60 is 18 more years for men and 23 years for women.

    The majority of older persons are women. Worldwide, there are 81 men aged 60 or over for every 100 women, and among the oldest old, there are 53 men for every 100 women. The ratio of men to women in older age groups is lower in the more developed regions than in the less developed regions. While 78 per cent of older men are currently married, the corresponding figure for older women is 44 per cent.

    The impact of demographic ageing is visible in the potential support ratio, which is the number of persons aged 15–64 years for every older person aged 65 years or older. The potential support ratio, which indicates the dependency burden on potential workers, is falling in developed and less developed regions. Between 2002 and 2050, the potential support ratio will decline from five to two working age persons per each older person in more developed regions, and by an even larger fraction in less developed regions, from 12 to five. These dramatic demographic changes will affect social security schemes, particularly traditional systems in which current workers pay for the benefits of current retirees.

    Countries with high per capita incomes tend to have lower participation rates of older workers. Only 31 per cent of men aged 60 years or older were still economically active in more developed regions, as compared with 50 per cent of men in less developed regions. In more developed regions, 10 per cent of older women are economically active, compared with 19 per cent in less developed regions.

    The statistics are available in a wall chart, which will be webcast live at: The data presented in the wall chart are also available on the Internet at:

    The wall chart entitled, "Population Ageing 2002" (Sales No. E.02.XIII.2) can be obtained for $5.95 per copy from the Sales Section, United Nations, New York or Geneva; through booksellers worldwide; or by writing to the Director, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, New York, N.Y. 10017, United States.

    For further information, please contact the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, tel. no. (212) 963-3179, or the Department of Public Information, tel. no. (212) 963-0499 or (212) 963-3507.

    For further information on the Second World Assembly on Ageing, visit

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