Population ageing is transforming the demographic structure of countries in the UNECE region. Over the past 20 years, the number of older persons has risen by 70.3 million, and their proportion increased from 13.4 to 17.5 per cent in 2022, according to United Nations population estimates. Rising life expectancy, enduring low fertility, as well as migration have affected the extent and pace of population ageing. These ongoing trends indicate that, by 2030, people aged 65 years and older are set to account for a fifth of the total population in the region. Persons aged 80 and above will make up 5.4 per cent. By 2050, persons 65 years old and above are expected to make up almost a quarter of the region's population, while older persons aged 80 and above are projected to account for 8.7 per cent.
Rising longevity and the growing proportion of older persons requires governments to develop long-term policy responses to adapt to the challenges of ageing societies while realizing the potentials of longer lives.
20 years ago, in 2002, the Second World Assembly on Ageing adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) setting a bold agenda for ageing-related policies in the 21 Century. Progress in its implementation is reviewed every five years to readjust policy priorities for ageing societies.
Ministers in charge of ageing policy will convene in Rome next week (16-17 June) for the 5th UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing, to review progress made, discuss the challenges ahead and set the policy priorities going forward for the next five years.
Progress towards three policy goals
A regional synthesis report issued by UNECE this week to inform the conference deliberations is based on 40 country reports. It identifies key achievements and challenges towards the three policy goals agreed at the last Ministerial Conference on Ageing in Lisbon in 2017, which were to: (1) recognize the potential of older persons; (2) encourage longer working life and ability to work; and (3) ensure ageing with dignity.
- Recognizing the potential of older persons
Countries have facilitated the participation of older persons in social and cultural life by providing opportunities for volunteering, entertainment and physical and cultural activities tailored to their needs and preferences. Apart from playing a positive role in facilitating healthy and active ageing, such actions also addressed loneliness and social isolation, which continue to be widespread in older age groups. Significant advances have also been made on the involvement of older persons and their representatives in policy processes affecting them. Older people’s councils at the local level have become more widespread facilitating the consideration of older people’s issues in decision-making. The promotion of a positive image of ageing and older persons to counteract negative stereotypes and other manifestations of ageism is another area of action in which progress has been recorded, including through information campaigns and intergenerational dialogue.
- Longer working life
To extend working lives, significant attention has been devoted to combatting unemployment among older persons and promoting age management and age-friendly working conditions at the workplace. Employment prospects of older workers were boosted through skills development, with particular emphasis on digital skills and literacy. Pension reforms to raise and harmonize retirement ages between women and men, linking retirement age to life expectancy, promoting partial or gradual retirement and flexible working were another key area of reforms to encourage and enable longer working lives in response to rising longevity and population ageing. Old-age poverty, especially among women, received significant attention. Measures to reduce the gender pay and pension gaps were advanced by several countries.
- Ageing with dignity
Dignified ageing requires the conjunction of many elements including the full enjoyment of human rights, freedom from violence and abuse, access to high quality health and social care, autonomy to make decisions, age in a place of choice, and participate in society in a self-determined way up to the end of life. Countries have developed integrated care and support infrastructures at local level, leveraging technology and digitalization to enable ageing in place, including through promoting research and development of assisted-living technologies. The prevention of elder abuse has been advanced through enhanced awareness-raising and training and improved legal frameworks.
The provision and quality of health and social care services has been a priority for many countries that developed or revised frameworks to respond to the long-term health and social care needs of their ageing populations. Major aspects addressed included quality assurance, integration, financial sustainability, decentralization and deinstitutionalization of long-term care and an expansion of home-care services. Attention has also been paid to ensuring the development of the health and care workforce and to providing support to informal and family carers.
To address the growing prevalence of dementia associated with increased longevity, a significant number of countries in the region adopted or updated dementia strategies and plans to improve the lives of people with dementia and of their caregivers.
COVID-19 has had a disproportional negative effect on older persons
The past five years of policy development have been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the region since 2020. The public health emergency has had a disproportional negative effect on older persons. Beyond the threat to life, the pandemic has put older persons at greater risk of physical and social isolation, loneliness, discrimination, and various human rights abuses. The experience of the recent public health emergency has put a spotlight on the need to better address the needs and rights of older persons through policies in all sectors and at all levels.
Outlook and priorities for the future
Despite significant policy progress achieved, challenges remain. The review highlights the need for further reforms and investments to realize the potential of every older person, create a society for all ages and ensure sustainability of social protection systems and long-term care. Priorities for further action identified include the need to mainstream ageing across all policies at all levels, to promote active and healthy ageing across the life course, to make long-term care services accessible for all and to support caregivers.
About the 5th UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing
The UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing 2022 organized under the theme “Joining forces for solidarity and equal opportunities throughout life” concludes the regional review of progress made between 2017-2022.
Conference panels will address:
1) Promoting active and healthy ageing throughout life
2) Ensuring access to long-term care and support for carers and families
3) Mainstreaming ageing to advance a society for all ages
The Ministerial Conference on Ageing is organized by UNECE in collaboration with the UNECE Standing Working Group on Ageing and the Government of Italy.
A joint Forum of Civil Society and Scientific Research will precede the Ministerial Conference on 15 June 2022.
Visit the Conference website for the full programme and all related information: https://unece.org/population/events/ministerial-conference-ageing-2022.