The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The International Plan of Action on Ageing, adopted at the first World Assembly on Ageing in Vienna, has guided the course of thinking and action on ageing over the past 20 years...Issues of human rights for older persons were taken up in 1991 in the formulation of the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, which provided guidance in the areas of independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity.

The 20th century saw a revolution in longevity. Average life expectancy at birth increased by 20 years since 1950 to 66 years and is expected to extend a further 10 years by 2050. This demographic triumph and the fast growth of the population in the first half of the 21st century mean that the number of persons over 60 will increase from about 600 million in 2000 to almost 2 billion in 2050 and the proportion of persons defined as older is projected to increase globally from 10 per cent in 1998 to 15 per cent in 2025. The increase will be greatest and most rapid in developing countries where the older population is expected to quadruple during the next 50 years. In Asia and Latin America, the proportion of persons classified as older will increase from 8 to 15 per cent between 1998 and 2025, although in Africa the proportion is only expected to grow from 5 to 6 per cent during the period but then double by 2050. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the struggle with the HIV/AIDS pandemic and with economic and social hardship continues, the percentage will reach half that level. In Europe and North America, between 1998 and 2025, the proportion of persons classified as older will increase from 20 to 28 per cent and 16 to 26 per cent, respectively. Such a global demographic transformation has profound consequences for every aspect of individual, community, national and international life. Every facet of humanity will evolve: social, economic, political, cultural, psychological and spiritual.

The remarkable demographic transition under way will result in the old and the young representing an equal share of the world’s population by mid-century. Globally, the proportion of persons aged 60 years and older is expected to double between 2000 and 2050, from 10 to 21 per cent, whereas the proportion of children is projected to drop by a third, from 30 to 21 per cent.

In certain developed countries and countries with economies in transition, the number of older persons already exceeds the number of children and birth rates have fallen below replacement levels. In some developed countries, the number of older persons will be more than twice that of children by 2050. In developed countries the average of 71 men per 100 women is expected to increase to 78.

In the less developed regions, older women do not outnumber older men to the same extent as in the developed regions, since gender differences in life expectancy are generally smaller. Current sex ratios in developing countries average 88 men per 100 women among those 60 and older, and are projected to change slightly to 87 by mid-century.

Population ageing is poised to become a major issue in developing countries which are projected to age swiftly in the first half of the 21st century. The proportion of older persons is expected to rise from 8 to 19 per cent by 2050, while that of children will fall from 33 to 22 per cent. This demographic shift presents a major resource challenge. Though developed countries have been able to age gradually, they face challenges resulting from the relationship between ageing and unemployment and sustainability of pension systems, while developing countries face the challenge of simultaneous development and population ageing.

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