The composition of the world population has changed dramatically in recent decades. Between 1950 and 2010 life expectancy worldwide rose from 46 to 68 years, and it is projected to increase to 81 by the end of the century.
The theme of the 2012 commemoration is "Longevity: Shaping the Future". Ageing and health was also the theme of this year's World Health Day on 7 April. These themes focus on how healthy behaviours throughout life can help older men and women lead full and productive lives and be a resource for their families and communities.
It should be noted that at present women outnumber men by an estimated 66 million among those aged 60 years or over. Among those aged 80 years or over, women are nearly twice as numerous as men, and among centenarians women are between four and five times as numerous as men. For the first time in human history, in 2050, there will be more persons over 60 than children in the world.
Almost 700 million people are now over the age of 60. By 2050, 2 billion people, over 20 per cent of the world's population, will be 60 or older. The increase in the number of older people will be the greatest and the most rapid in the developing world, with Asia as the region with the largest number of older persons, and Africa facing the largest proportionate growth. With this in mind, enhanced attention to the particular needs and challenges faced by many older people is clearly required. Just as important, however, is the essential contribution the majority of older men and women can continue to make to the functioning of society if adequate guarantees are in place. Human rights lie at the core of all efforts in this regard.
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