IYOP At A Glance

Individuals are living longer. Populations are ageing rapidly. These phenomena trigger the need for new thinking, organization, roles, and relationships in families, neighbourhoods and nations.

Old age is a new frontier. In the second half of the twentieth century, twenty years have been added to the average life-expectancy worldwide. As pioneers of this life-extension, today’s elders are re-writing the scripts for late-life, exploring new ways of being, becoming and doing in the high age. As agents and beneficiaries of progress, older women and men require opportunities and support systems including for income-generation, social security, and health care.

"Quoting statistics about ageing will take us just so far. The problem is not counting, but consciousness." -Ambassador Julia T. Alvarez Alternate Ambassador of the Dominican Republic and the Co-Chair of the United Nations Consultative Group for the IYOP

An inverse family pyramid. Declining fertility and mortality are combining to alter family structures. Grandparents are coming to outnumber children. This has been called the inverse family pyramid. As the transition is underway, caring networks need adjustments.Successful ageing begins early. Perceptions of late-life influence early choices. Conversely, opportunities in early life lay the foundations for life-long wellbeing, allowing resources or capital to be built over time including human capital in the sense of good health, work skills and self-knowledge. Social capital in the sense of family and community networks. Economic capital in the sense of varied savings and pension schemes. A balance of all three capitals is needed, which is best achieved through programmes to eradicate poverty, unemployment and social exclusion – themes of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development.

The neighbourhood is changing. Urbanization, migration and modernization in addition to ageing are changing the age structure of rural and urban neighbourhoods. The out-migration from rural areas tend to remove the middle age-groups. Small city dwellings make multi-generational co-habitation difficult. Age-specific kindergartens, schools and elder residences tend to segregate the generations. Designing for a ‘society for all ages’ requires that we examine and reconsider current trends towards age-segregation.

When every third person is over age 60! By 2030 every third individual will be over age 60 in several industrialized countries and, 120 years later, every third person in the world is projected to be over 60. Unprecedented in human history, the ageing of populations is changing the shape of families, neighbourhoods and nations giving rise to new kinds of housing, transportation, services, production and consumption patterns. These changes are being explored through the theme of the International Year – towards a society for all ages.

Relatedly, a society for all ages responds to the needs and capabilities of each age group, promotes age-integration, and facilitates multi-generational reciprocity. It acknowledges the varying stages or phases of individual life, and is responsive to varying capabilities of age-cohorts as these are shaped differently over time by such historical events as war or famine, for example, or by access to education, work, information and travel.Why is a society for all ages? The society for all ages is rooted in the idea of a society for all. A society for all is one that adjusts its structures and functioning, as well as its policies and plans, to the needs of capabilities for all, thereby releasing the potential of all, for the benefit of all.

"A society for all ages is one that does not caricature older persons as patients and pensioners. Instead, it sees them as both agents and beneficiaries of development. It honours traditional elders in their leadership and consultative roles in communities throughout the world." -Kofi Annan United Nations Secretary-General 1 October 1998

How is the Year being observed?

Local, national, regional and international initiatives have been launched encompassing the four dimensions of: raising awareness, looking ahead, reaching out and networking.

  • Information campaigns, conferences, radio and television debates, art and photographic exhibits, Internet pages, walks, concerts and fairs are some of the tools being used to highlight the issue of ageing and raise awareness of the many reasons for observing IYOP.
  • The long-term implications of ageing are being addressed through legislation, programmes, demographic projections and futuristic scenarios. A research agenda on ageing for the 21st century is under construction at the UN.
  • Out-reach to non-traditional players is being made and these include: youth, enterprises, the media, development agencies and the arts. These players, not traditionally attentive to ageing issues, are being challenged to look into the lifelong and society-wide implications of the demographic revolution.
  • Networks of and for ageing are being formed and consolidated at all levels and within many sectors. Two new global networks have been formed for the Year. At the time of the official launch of IYOP, half the UN Member States had established national committees or focal points for the Year.

UN Milestones

1947 United Nations activities on ageing began.
1982 The World Assembly on Ageing (Vienna, Austria) adopted the International Plan of Action on Ageing. The Plan, endorsed by the UN General Assembly, sets forth 62 recommendations for action in the areas of: health and nutrition, protection of elderly consumers, housing and environment, family, social welfare, income security and employment, education (as well as data collection, research and training).
1991 UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons. The eighteen Principles fall into five categories: independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity.
1991 The International Day of Older Persons, 1 October, is observed for the first time. On the 8th observance of the International Day, 1 October 1998, the International Year of Older Persons is launched.
1992 UN Proclamation on Ageing
1999 The International Year of Older Persons is being observed. The UN General Assembly designated the Year in recognition of "humanity’s demographic coming of age and the promise it holds for maturing attitudes and capabilities in social, economic, cultural and spiritual undertakings, not least for global peace and development in the next century".
2001 UN General Assembly evaluates the Year and prepares forward-looking plans.

What outcomes?

IYOP should make a difference. Its impact could include:

  • improved livelihood, security and health care for older persons
  • new and improved language, images and ‘scripts’ for late-life
  • recognition of mid-life as a transition to active ageing
  • greater youth foresight and awareness of longevity
  • strengthened networks of family and community caring
  • more channels of communications between the generations
  • more flexible lifelong work arrangements
  • more formal and informal lifelong educational opportunities
  • recognition of older women’s achievements and rights
  • more multi-generational industrial design
  • policy-oriented research on ageing for the next decades
  • future-oriented national and international programmes