Press Releases

    Background Release

    2 April 2002


    Objectives: To Promote ‘A Society
    For All Ages’, Respond to Challenges of Population Ageing

    NEW YORK, 1 April (UN Headquarters) -- The Second United Nations World Assembly on Ageing will convene in Madrid, Spain, from 8 to 12 April, to respond to the opportunities and challenges of a rapidly ageing population during the twenty-first century, a "demographic revolution" without precedents in history, and promote the development of a "society for all ages", the theme of the 1999 International Year of Older Persons.

    Since the adoption of an International Plan of Action at the first World Assembly in Vienna, Austria, in 1982, pervasive demographic changes have been transforming the world. Ongoing declines in fertility reinforced by increasing longevity continue to produce irreversible changes in the structure of all societies, notably, the historic reversal in the proportions of young and older persons. The profound, pervasive and enduring consequences of population ageing present enormous opportunities, as well as challenges for all societies.

    The ‘Ageing Revolution’

    By the middle of the twenty-first century, the old and the young are expected to represent equal 21 per cent shares of the world population. Today, the median age for the world population is 26 years. By 2050, the world median age is expected to have increased by 10 years, to 36 years. Globally, the proportion of persons aged 60 years and older is expected to double between 2000 and 2050, with the majority of older people living in developing countries.

    There are other major demographic differences between developed and developing countries. While the overwhelming proportion of older persons in developed countries live in urban areas the majority of older persons in developing countries live in rural areas. Also, in developing countries a large proportion of older persons live in multi-generational households. These differences imply that policy actions and priorities will be different in developing and developed countries.

    As the pace of population ageing is much faster in developing countries than in developed countries, developing countries will have less time to adjust to the consequences of population ageing. Moreover, population ageing in the developing countries is taking place at much lower levels of socio-economic development than was the case in the developed countries.

    Problems rising from other demographic projections need to be addressed, as well. Older women outnumber older men, increasingly so as age increases. The fastest growing group of the older population is the oldest old: those who are 80 years or more. This group is projected to increase more than five times over the next 50 years.

    The potential support ratio, or PSR (the number of persons aged 15-64 years per one older person aged 65 years or older), fell from 12 to nine between 1950 and 2000. By 2050, the PSR is projected to fall to four working-age persons for each person 65 years or older. Potential support ratios have important implications for social security schemes, particularly traditional systems in which current workers pay for the benefits of current retirees.


    This "grey cloud" on the horizon, however, has a silver lining. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has said: "Trees grow stronger over the years, rivers wider. Likewise, with age, human beings gain immeasurable depth and breadth of experience and wisdom. That is why older persons should be not only respected and revered; they should be utilized as the rich resource to society that they are." The wealth of skills and experience that older people bring to the workplace, to public life and to the family are generally not recognized. Technological advances and new ways of organizing society can be put to good use to increase the participation of older people in work and to make appropriate socio-economic changes.

    Volunteering by older persons is a singular and particularly valuable mode of "productive ageing". Because older people are the most rapidly growing segment of the population in many parts of the world, they constitute a major resource waiting to be tapped. Older people fill gaps that the State and the market are unable or unwilling to fill. They provide precious expertise, networks and knowledge to many organizations that otherwise could not function so well.

    Second World Assembly

    In its resolution 54/262 of 25 May 2000, the General Assembly decided to convene the Second World Assembly on Ageing to review the outcome of the first World Assembly on Ageing, held in Vienna, Austria, in 1982, and to adopt a revised plan of action, focusing on: links between ageing and development; measures to mainstream ageing within the context of current global development agendas; appropriate forms of public and private partnerships at all levels to build a society for all ages; and measures to strengthen the solidarity between generation.

    Review of First World Assembly Plan of Action

    To review progress achieved and obstacles encountered in implementation of the first Plan of Action, the United Nations has asked Member States to address seven issues identified in Vienna: health and nutrition of older people; their safety; habitat and environment; family; social well-being; income security and employment; and education. Answers from some 60 countries indicate that progress achieved since Vienna has been different from country to country, as a result from differences in dedicated resources and followed priorities. However, national infrastructures to support ageing have been put in place, so that, generally speaking, health, the living situation and income security of older persons have improved.

    Second World Assembly Action Plan

    The Plan of Action to be adopted by the Madrid Assembly is expected to call for changes in attitudes, policies and practices at all levels in all sectors, so that the enormous potential of ageing in the twenty-first century may be fulfilled. While recognizing that the foundation for a healthy and enriching old age is laid early in life, the plan will also stress the importance of integrating the evolving process of global ageing within the larger process of development.

    The Plan is intended to become a political tool, which would allow policy- makers to focus on the key priorities associated with ageing at the individual and population levels. Acknowledging the common features of the nature of ageing and the challenges it presents, the document will also provide specific recommendations to address those challenges, which are being designed to be adapted to the circumstances in each country.

    Among other things, the Plan is expected to call for: secure ageing; empowerment of older persons to fully and effectively participate in the economic, political and social lives of their societies; provision of opportunities for individual development and well-being throughout life; guaranteeing the economic, social and cultural rights of older persons, as well as their civil and political rights; and commitment to gender equality in older persons through elimination of gender-based discrimination.

    Issues still pending in the draft text include matters related to monitoring and follow-up and the role of debt relief and financing to address ageing in developing countries.

    Follow-up to the Assembly in Madrid is expected to be far-reaching and multifaceted. It is hoped that adoption of the International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002 will bolster intergovernmental mandates and the political will of governments to take a crucial step towards implementation of the Plan's recommendations.

    Organization of Assembly

    The Assembly will organize its work around the plenary and the main committee. The plenary will allow for a general exchange of views on the main themes, while the main committee and other working groups will be responsible for preparing the outcome documents. A series of round-table discussions, sponsored by the Government of Spain, will involve independent experts, eminent persons and groups. The goal is to promote a broad dialogue between governments and civil society on key issues and challenges related to ageing.

    Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutions and the private sector have been invited to take part in the World Assembly and in its preparation.

    A parallel side events programme that will encompass high-level round tables, panels, workshops, meetings and cultural exhibitions is being organized by the host Government of Spain and will involve United Nations agencies, international NGOs, intergovernmental bodies and Member States.

    For further information, visit the Web site of the Spanish Organizing Committee:

    The World Forum of Non-governmental Organizations on Ageing will be held in Madrid from 4 to 9 April. For more information see From 1 to 4 April, in Valencia, Spain, a scientific forum will be convened, bringing together international academics, professional practitioners of gerontology and representatives of the private sector who will pool their knowledge, experience and understanding on how best to address the issues of individual and population ageing. The forum is sponsored by the International Association of Gerontology and supported by the Swiss-based Novartis Foundation for Gerontology.

    Additional information on this event can be found on

    As customary, the President of the World Assembly is expected to come from Spain, the host country. The Assembly will elect 26 vice-presidents according to geographical distribution.

    The Second World Assembly on Ageing has two goodwill ambassadors whose mission it will be to promote the World Assembly and its goals: Her Royal Highness the Infanta Doña Cristina Federica de Borbon y Grecia, the younger daughter of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain; and Marcel Marceau from France, universally acclaimed as the world’s greatest mime.

    Additional information on the World Assembly can be found at: and

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