Every year on the 1st October, the UN International Day of Older Persons is observed around the world by all UN member states, with events to raise awareness of the issues faced by older people, and also to celebrate the value they add to society. The event was first held in 1991, having been agreed by the UN General Assembly the previous year.
The world is getting older
The part that older people play in society is becoming increasingly important. The world's population is ageing rapidly. Currently there are approximately 700 million people aged over 60. By 2050 this figure is expected to have risen to in excess of 2 billion, which will equate to 20% of the global population.
It will also mark a significant demographic shift as for the first time the over 60s population will outnumber the children in the world. In 1950 the average worldwide life expectancy was 46, today it is 68. It is anticipated that by the end of the twenty first century average life expectancy globally will have reached 81.
Why is the Day of Older Persons important?
The role that older people play in society is already important, and will become increasingly so as the older population grows. Society will depend on older people being healthier so that they can continue to contribute for as long as possible, for example by working until a later retirement age, or by providing childcare for grandchildren whose parents are at work.
In some countries the situation is even more serious, as grandparents are needed to look after their grandchildren who have been orphaned as result of conflict or the AIDS epidemic. There are an estimated 14 million children in Africa alone currently being cared for by their grandparents because their parents have died.
What happens on the day?
Around the world, there are special events held to mark the day, celebrating what older people bring to communities. Some organisations promote intergenerational voluntary initiatives to encourage greater involvement of younger people in the lives of older people. Some places arrange conferences to discuss issues relating to older people and how the ageing population affects society as a whole.
In the UK, the day is known as Older People's Day. Across the country many local authorities and charities organise a variety of events to celebrate Older People's Day, ranging from history talks and music concerts to craft sessions and afternoon tea.