World Bank/Flore de Préneuf
A man waits for the tram in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The world’s population is ageing: virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older persons in their population.

Population ageing is poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society, including labour and financial markets, the demand for goods and services, such as housing, transportation and social protection, as well as family structures and intergenerational ties. 

According to data from World Population Prospects: the 2015 Revision, the number of older persons—those aged 60 years or over—has increased substantially in recent years in most countries and regions, and that growth is projected to accelerate in the coming decades. 

Levels and trends in Population Ageing

Worldwide, there were 901 million people aged 60 years or more in 2015, an increase of 48 per cent over the 607 million older persons globally in 2000. Between 2015 and 2030, the number of people in the world aged 60 years or more is projected to grow by 56 per cent, from 901 million to 1.4 billion, and by 2050, the global population of older persons is projected to more than double its size in 2015, reaching nearly 2.1 billion. 

Two thirds of the world’s older persons live in the developing regions and their numbers are growing faster there than in the developed regions.

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.

Demographic drivers of population ageing

The size and age composition of a population are determined jointly by three demographic processes: fertility, mortality and migration.

All regions have experienced substantial increases in life expectancy since 1950. As the life expectancy at birth increases, improvements in survival at older ages account for a growing proportion of the overall improvement in longevity.

 While declining fertility and increasing longevity are the key drivers of population ageing globally, international migration has also contributed to changing population age structures in some countries and regions. In countries that are experiencing large immigration flows, international migration can slow the ageing process, at least temporarily, since migrants tend to be in the young working ages. However, migrants who remain in the country eventually will age into the older population. 

Key Conferences on Ageing

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. The International Day of Older Persons is celebrated on 1 October every year.

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 recommendations for action give priority to older persons and development, advancing health and well-being into old age, and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.


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