The average age of the population is advancing on a global scale. In order to respond to this dramatic change in the population structure, which humankind is experiencing for the first time, the United Nations will hold the Second World Assembly on Aging in Madrid in April. The First World Assembly on Aging was held in Vienna in the summer of 1982.

The U.N. estimates that the ratio of elderly people at least 65 years old to total world population will rise from 6.9 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2040 and 15.6 percent in 2050. The increase is particularly striking in developing countries; four of every five elderly people reside in a developing country. This fact will require a change in the conventional perception that the main problem for developing countries is population growth and that developed countries have the problem of aging.

The U.N. first began tackling the problem of aging in the latter half of the 1970s. At the first world assembly 20 years ago, the U.N. forecast that the world's elderly population would reach 600 million by the beginning of the 21st century. At that time, the ratio of elderly people in the world was 5.9 percent, and the phenomenon of aging in developing countries was not yet considered a problem.