Looking Ahead: Beyond 1999

According to current projections, in 2030 every third person in the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development will be over age 60. The picture is different for developing countries, where it is the speed of population ageing that catches the eye. It is estimated that it will take Tunisia 15 years for the cohort aged 65 and over to increase from 7 to 14 per cent (2020-2035); it will take Chile 30 years (2000-2030) to undergo a similar transition. By contrast, it took France 115 years (1865-1980), allowing ample time for adjusting to the socio-economic consequences.

In the decades ahead, two important trends will be the speed of ageing in developing countries and the high proportion of older persons in developed countries. Since population trends are foreseeable over long periods, and major changes in population structure have profound implications on many aspects of society, the feasibility of formulating a long-term perspective plan to the year 2020 is being explored. Related national initiatives reported during the General Assembly’s plenary observances of the Year will contribute to the preparation of a 2020 strategy, including, possibly, the "agenda of the age".

As reported by a Prime Ministerial Task Force on Positive Ageing in New Zealand, there are two possible approaches to preparing long-term perspective plans on ageing. The first was to see older people (however defined) as a distinct group in society and to try to develop ways of improving their experience. The second was to try to improve the experiences of people generally, while at the same time dismantling the barriers that segregate older people from the rest of society. Noting that the two approaches would require different strategies, the Task Force opted for the second approach and is focusing on a few long-term foundational goals and strategies, rather than on a multitude of short-term measures.

At the present time, the United Nations programme on ageing is endeavouring to integrate both approaches in its immediate and long-term plans, that is, addressing older persons as a distinct group in society while simultaneously seeking to dismantle the barriers that segregate older people from the rest of society. Both approaches will be taken into account in the evaluation of the Year of Older Persons, the fifth review and appraisal of the implementation of the International Plan of Action on Ageing, to be conducted by the Commission for Social Development in 2001, and the target strategies adopted in 1992 for the year 2001.

Various international initiatives now under way could also contribute to the 2020 perspective plan, including the drafting of a declaration of interdependence on multi-generational relationships, the development of a research agenda on ageing for the twenty-first century and the preparation of an international plan of action on rural ageing for the first decade of the twenty-first century, among others.