The world is in the midst of a unique and irreversible process of demographic transition that will result in older populations everywhere. As fertility rates decline, the proportion of persons aged 60 and over is expected to double between 2007 and 2050, and their actual number will more than triple, reaching 2 billion by 2050. In most countries, the number of those over 80 is likely to quadruple to nearly 400 million by then.
Older persons are increasingly seen as contributors to development, whose abilities to act for the betterment of themselves and their societies should be woven into policies and programmes at all levels. Currently, 64 per cent of all older persons live in the less developed regions — a number expected to approach 80 per cent by 2050.
To begin addressing these issues, the General Assembly convened the first World Assembly on Ageing in 1982, which produced a 62-point “Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing”. It called for specific action on such issues as health and nutrition, protecting elderly consumers, housing and environment, family, social welfare, income security and employment, education, and the collection and analysis of research data.
In 1991, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, enumerating 18 entitlements for older persons — relating to independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity. The following year, the International Conference on Ageing met to follow-up on the Plan of Action, adopting a Proclamation on Ageing. Following the Conference's recommendation, the UN General Assembly declared 1999 the International Year of Older Persons.
Action on behalf of the ageing continued in 2002, when the Second World Assembly on Ageing was held in Madrid. Aiming to design international policy on ageing for the 21st century, it adopted a Political Declaration and the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. The Plan of Action called for changes in attitudes, policies and practices at all levels to fulfil the enormous potential of ageing in the twenty-first century. Its specific reommendations for action give priority to older persons and development, advancing health and well-being into old age, and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.
"A society for all ages encompasses the goal of providing older persons with the opportunity to continue contributing to society. To work towards this goal, it is necessary to remove whatever excludes or discriminates against them."
- 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (para. 19)