Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002

original document available in:
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translation also available in:
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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, as crucial policies and initiatives evolved. 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 twentieth century saw a revolution in longevity. Average life expectancy at birth has 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 twenty-first 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 doubling 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 twenty-first 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.

There are other major demographic differences between developed and developing countries. While today the overwhelming proportion of older persons in developed countries live in areas classified as urban, the majority of older persons in developing countries live in rural areas. Demographic projections suggest that, by 2025, 82 per cent of the population of developed countries will live in urban areas, while less than half of the population of developing countries will live there. In developing countries, the proportion of older persons in rural areas is higher than in urban areas. Although further study is needed on the relationship between ageing and urbanization, the trends suggest that in the future in rural areas of many developing countries there will be a larger population of older persons.

Significant differences also exist between developed and developing countries in terms of the kinds of households in which older persons live. In developing countries a large proportion of older persons live in multigenerational households. These differences imply that policy actions will be different in developing and developed countries.

The fastest growing group of the older population is the oldest old, that is, those who are 80 years old or more. In 2000, the oldest old numbered 70 million and their numbers are projected to increase to more than five times that over the next 50 years.

Older women outnumber older men, increasingly so as age increases. The situation of older women everywhere must be a priority for policy action. Recognizing the differential impact of ageing on women and men is integral to ensuring full equality between women and men and to the development of effective and efficient measures to address the issue. It is therefore critical to ensure the integration of a gender perspective into all policies, programmes and legislation.

It is essential to integrate the evolving process of global ageing within the larger process of development. Policies on ageing deserve close examination from the developmental perspective of a broader life course and a society-wide view, taking into account recent global initiatives and the guiding principles set down by major United Nations conferences and summits.

The International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002 calls 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. Many older persons do age with security and dignity, and also empower themselves to participate within their families and communities. The aim of the International Plan of Action is to ensure that persons everywhere are able to age with security and dignity and to continue to participate in their societies as citizens with full rights. While recognizing that the foundation for a healthy and enriching old age is laid early in life, the Plan is intended to be a practical tool to assist policy makers to focus on the key priorities associated with individual and population ageing. The common features of the nature of ageing and the challenges it presents are acknowledged and specific recommendations are designed to be adapted to the great diversity of circumstances in each country. The Plan recognizes the many different stages of development and the transitions that are taking place in various regions, as well as the interdependence of all countries in a globalizing world.

A society for all ages, which was the theme for the 1999 International Year of Older Persons, contained four dimensions: individual lifelong development; multigenerational relationships; the interrelationship between population ageing and development; and the situation of older persons. The International Year helped to advance awareness, research and policy action worldwide, including efforts to integrate the issue of ageing in all sectors and foster opportunities integral to all phases of life.

The major United Nations conferences and summits and special sessions of the General Assembly and review follow-up processes have set goals, objectives and commitments at all levels intended to improve the economic and social conditions of everyone. These provide the context in which the specific contributions and concerns of older persons must be placed. Implementing their provisions would enable older persons to contribute fully and benefit equally from development. There are a number of central themes running through the International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002 linked to these goals, objectives and commitments, which include:

The promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, is essential for the creation of an inclusive society for all ages in which older persons participate fully and without discrimination and on the basis of equality. Combating discrimination based on age and promoting the dignity of older persons is fundamental to ensuring the respect that older persons deserve. Promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms is important in order to achieve a society for all ages. In this, the reciprocal relationship between and among generations must be nurtured, emphasized and encouraged through a comprehensive and effective dialogue.

The recommendations for action are organized according to three priority directions: older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments. The extent to which the lives of older persons are secure is strongly influenced by progress in these three directions. The priority directions are designed to guide policy formulation and implementation towards the specific goal of successful adjustment to an ageing world, in which success is measured in terms of social development, the improvement for older persons in quality of life and in the sustainability of the various systems, formal and informal, that underpin the quality of well-being throughout the life course.

Mainstreaming ageing into global agendas is essential. A concerted effort is required to move towards a wide and equitable approach to policy integration. The task is to link ageing to other frameworks for social and economic development and human rights. Whereas specific policies will vary according to country and region, population ageing is a universal force that has the power to shape the future as much as globalization. It is essential to recognize the ability of older persons to contribute to society by taking the lead not only in their own betterment but also in that of society as a whole. Forward thinking calls us to embrace the potential of the ageing population as a basis for future development.