Ageing in the Twenty-First Century

1-Oct-2012    A new United Nations report released today calls on governments to address the needs of older persons, who are now the fastest growing population segment worldwide, stressing that they will require adequate policies, strategies and laws to ensure their well-being.

Within 10 years the number of people aged over 60 will pass one billion, a report by the UN Population Fund said.

  • The demographic shift will present huge challenges to countries' welfare, pension and healthcare systems.
  • The UN agency also said more had to be done to tackle "abuse, neglect and violence against older persons".
  • The number of older people worldwide is growing faster than any other age group.
  • The report, Ageing in the 21st Century: A Celebration and a Challenge, estimates that one in nine people around the world are older than 60.
  • The elderly population is expected to swell by 200 million in the next decade to surpass one billion, and reach two billion by 2050.
  • This rising proportion of older people is a consequence of success - improved nutrition, sanitation, healthcare, education and economic well-being are contributing factors, the report says.

But the UN and a charity that also contributed to the report, HelpAge International, say the ageing population is being widely mismanaged.

"In many developing countries with large populations of young people, the challenge is that governments have not put policies and practices in place to support their current older populations or made enough preparations for 2050," the agencies said in a joint statement.

'Cast out'

The report warns that the skills and experience of older people are being wasted, with many under-employed and vulnerable to discrimination.

HelpAge said more countries needed to introduce pension schemes to ensure economic independence and reduce poverty in old age. It stressed that it was not enough to simply pass legislation - the new schemes needed to be funded properly.

The UN report used India as an example, saying it needed to take urgent steps in this area. Almost two-thirds of India's population is under 30. But it also has 100 million elderly people - a figure that is expected to increase threefold by 2050.

Traditionally, people in India live in large, extended families and elderly people have been well looked after. But the trend now is to have smaller, nuclear families and many of the country's elderly are finding themselves cast out, says the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi.

There are more and more cases of physical and mental abuse, including neglect, suffered by the elderly at the hands of their families. It is slowly becoming a widespread social problem, particularly in urban areas, one which India still has not got to grips with, our correspondent says.

By contrast, the UN report cited the case of Bolivia as an example of good practice in the developing world. All Bolivians over the age of 60 get a pension that is the equivalent of about $30 (£19) a month.

Bolivia suffers from frequent flooding and landslides, and older people there have been organised into "Brigadas Blancas" - White Haired Brigades. They help with preparations for emergencies, and accessing humanitarian aid.


Rapidly and surely the world is getting older. In 2000, for the first time in history, there were more people over age 60 than children below age 5. The number and proportion of older persons is growing faster than any other age group, and will surpass 1 billion people in less the 10 years.

Ageing is now occurring fastest in the developing world, which has limited resources and plans to deal with this unprecedented demographic trend. The older generation -- which includes caregivers, voters, teachers, volunteers, entrepreneurs, leaders, and more – represents a growing reservoir of talent and experience that can be tapped to reap a 'longevity dividend'.

This new report calls for new approaches to dealing with healthcare, workforce and retirement issues, living arrangements and intergenerational relations. This will help countries to harness the potential benefits and minimize the disruption that ageing will bring.


1 October 2012 – A new United Nations report released today calls on governments to address the needs of older persons, who are now the fastest growing population segment worldwide, stressing that they will require adequate policies, strategies and laws to ensure their well-being.

“Rapid population ageing and a steady increase in human longevity worldwide represent one of the greatest social, economic and political transformations of our time,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message to mark the International Day of Older Persons, which coincided with the report’s release.

“These demographic changes will affect every community, family and person. They demand that we rethink how individuals live, work, plan and learn throughout their lifetimes, and that we re-invent how societies manage themselves.”

By 2050, 80 per cent of the world’s older people will live in developing countries and the population over 60 years old will be larger than the population under 15, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

The report, Ageing in the Twenty-first Century: A Celebration and a Challenge, which was produced by UNFPA and HelpAge International, underlines that while the trend of ageing societies is a cause for celebration, it also presents huge challenges as it requires new approaches to health care, retirement, living arrangements and intergenerational relations.

“People everywhere must age with dignity and security, enjoying life through the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said at the report’s launch in Tokyo, Japan.

“Longer life expectancy was a goal of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. More action needs to be taken to achieve this for all people; new poverty goals must not exclude older people.”

Governments need to put policies and practices in place to support their current older populations and prepare for 2050, the report says, noting that more than 100 countries are already taking steps in this direction by implementing non-contributory social pensions in recognition of old age poverty. However, this is only part of what is required to ensure the rights of older persons are protected.

The report notes that despite their social and economic contributions to society, many older persons all over the world face continued discrimination, abuse and violence, and underscores the need for governments, civil society and the general public to work together to end these destructive practices and invest in older people.

The report also includes the stories of 1,300 older men and women who participated in group discussions in 36 countries around the world. Their first-hand accounts and testimonies supported efforts to better understand and meet their needs, UNFPA said in a news release.

“Ageing is a lifelong process that does not start at age 60. Today’s young people will be part of the two billion-strong population of older persons in 2050,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “This report shows that, with actions taken now, we can all benefit from the longevity dividend – increasingly in the developing world – now and in the future.”


Richard Blewitt, Chief Executive Officer of HelpAge International, said: “We must commit to ending the widespread mismanagement of ageing. Concrete, cost effective advances will come from ensuring age investment begins at birth - fully recognizing the vast majority of people will live into old age. Global and national action plans are needed to create a pathway to transform the explosive number of people over 60 to become growth drivers and value creators. By revolutionizing our approach and investing in people as they age we can build stronger, wealthier societies. Social protection and age friendly health care are essential to extend the independence of healthy older people and prevent impoverishment in old age.”

“These actions,” added Mr. Blewitt, “should be based on a long-term vision, and supported by a strong political commitment and a secured budget.”

“Ageing is a lifelong process that does not start at age 60. Today’s young people will be part of the 2 billion-strong population of older persons in 2050,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “This report shows that, with actions taken now, we can all benefit from the longevity dividend– increasingly in the developing world - now and in the future.”

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Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: Executive Summary

An ageing world demands wiser policies
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