Old and Young.
Getting Older
International Year of Older Persons 1999

The aging
of the
is a global

Much has been written and said about the graying of America as baby boomers move into the latter stages of their lives. But the overall aging of the population is a global phenomenon with far greater impact in the developing world than in the US or Europe.

Consider this. In 1975 three-fourths of the world's population lived in developing countries, but only half of those over 65 lived there. By 2025 it is projected that the proportion of those over 65 who live in the Third World will have grown to three-fourths. That trend has enormous repercussions for developing countries, because they are not economically prepared to cope with so many older persons. As Ambassador Julia T. Alvarez, the Dominican Republic's chief representative to the UN, says, "We [in the Third World] don't have the luxury of even fantasizing about social security."

Because the aging of the population is a global phenomenon, the UN has made 1999 the International Year of Older Persons. The NGO preparatory event for that commemorative year was held this August in Nashville and was cosponsored by the Stanley Foundation and Global Action on Aging, a nongovernmental organization that advocates on aging issues at the UN.

Focus on Women
The Nashville event focused specifically on the status of older women, because women generally live longer and are more likely to be poor. It is expected that by 2025 the world population of women over 60 will have tripled (from 1985) to more than 600 million. The Third World will be home to 70 percent of them with 70 percent of that population living in rural poverty.

In a message to the preparatory meeting, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted, "Women nearly everywhere are living longer than men. Women are also more likely than men to be poorer in old age and face a higher risk of chronic illness and disability, discrimination, and economic and social marginalization. At the same time, the essential contributions they make to the well-being of their families, communities and the economy are often overlooked."

But Ambassador Alvarez urged that older women be looked on as not just another problem, but as part of the solution. Addressing the Nashville meeting, she said, "Women, who represent more than half the world's poor and more than half of the world's elderly, also make up more than half of those already involved in senior enterprise projects." But, she added, too many are held back by the difficulty of getting credit—one of the problems that needs to be corrected.

The more than 100 women meeting in Nashville adopted a Declaration on Older Women's Rights. The document says older women should have:

  • Free education and lifelong learning.
  • Transportation, housing, and community facilities which are barrier-free.
  • Access to clean air, water, and soil.
  • Freedom from hostile social environments and prejudice.
  • Comprehensive long-term health care.
  • Help with achieving economic security and opportunities for self-sufficiency.
  • Full participation and representation in the political process.
The declaration will be presented to the UN next year.

Many women who attended the Nashville conference are carrying out follow-up activities in their local communities; and some organizations who were represented at the conference are taking the declaration to local, state, and national governments. In addition, Global Action on Aging is planning an October 1999 teleconference linking 400 communities where women's aging issues will be discussed.

—Jeffrey Martin
NOV 1998
The World's Oldest Countries: 1996 (Percent of population age 60 and over)
Source: US Bureau of the Census, International Programs Center, International Data Base.
Soon to Change. This chart shows the top ten oldest countries and then the US, which ranks 25th. Demographers expect that in the next two decades many on the list will be replaced by developing countries.

Copyright © 1998, The Stanley Foundation webmaster