What Is Gerontology?
Gerontology, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the comprehensive study of aging and the problems of the aged.” Many people confuse gerontology with geriatrics. Whereas geriatrics focuses strictly on the medical conditions and disease of the aging, gerontology is a multidisciplinary study that incorporates biology, psychology and sociology. Because gerontology deals with multi-faceted aspects of aging, gerontology professionals can be found in a variety of industries including health care, government, nonprofits and the business community.
Advanced Degrees in Gerontology and Areas of Study
Well-respected and accredited colleges and universities across the country have created gerontology degree and certificate programs for individuals who wish to dive into this challenging and compassionate industry. To accommodate the busy schedules of working professionals, many programs can be completed online through distance learning programs. Bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs are available that focus on the multidisciplinary approach to gerontology. Courses can include theories of aging, ethics, housing, social services, geriatric psychology, research methods, physiology of aging and government policy. Many colleges and universities offer programs with options for specialization.
Aging, Life Expectancy Statistics and Needs
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that life expectancy in the U.S. will be 77.1 years for men and 81.9 years for women by 2020. The aging population faces major challenges, including managing finances, maintaining health and wellness, and continuing employment. Since Americans are living longer than ever before and are currently facing challenging economic times, many must continue to work past the normal retirement age. For the period 2010-2020 the projected increase for those over age 65 who are working is expected to rise more than 80%. Health and wellness needs for the aging population have changed dramatically during the past decade. Demand for highly qualified occupational therapists, counselors, financial planners and health care workers has dramatically increased because of the rapidly increasing aging population. According to most indicators, this demand will continue to increase well into the middle of the century and beyond.
Careers in Gerontology
The aged population has a variety of needs for professionals across a wide array of industries. The study and practice of Gerontology is not strictly for those seeking careers in the health care industry; it’s for any professional looking to expand his or her industry experience into the aging demographic. For professionals seeking a career path working directly with aging individuals, careers can include caregivers, nurses, mental health counselors, activities directors, occupational therapists and other professional services industries. For those professionals seeking a career path in Gerontology that is more behind-the-scenes, careers can include research, program development, education, product development, administration and advocacy.
Job Outlook for Gerontology Degree Students
Demand for professionals from all industries with the specialized knowledge, educational background and passion for the aged is high across a number of professions and is projected to significantly rise in many disciplines. Health care social workers, rehabilitation counselors, occupational therapists, mental health counselors and health educators are expected to experience higher than average growth between 2010 and 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health and personal care aides have the highest projected growth rate: 70% between 2010 and 2020.
Gerontology requires a multidisciplinary approach that includes biology, physiology, psychology and sociology. Researchers focus on the physical, social and mental changes of individuals as they age, age-related diseases, risk factors for the aging including elder abuse and much more. Professionals with degrees or certificates in Gerontology use their experience and educational in tandem and apply it to the development of programs, direct care, product development, advocacy and so much more. Maintaining a high quality of life for the aged population is the focus of those in the Gerontology industry. The lives of millions of seniors are changed each year thanks to the research, development, advocacy and direct interaction with the senior community. There are diverse jobs available for those with a passion to serve the elder generation from product development to counseling and everything in between. The practice of Gerontology is a science and an art; it’s the intersection of where research and education meet advocacy and care for the elder generation.
To learn more about gerontology, please visit USC’s Master of Arts in Gerontology & Master of Aging Services Management programs.
 U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. “Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces” Table 104. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0104.pdf
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment Projections Program. Table 3.4: Civilian Labor Force by Age, Sex, Race and Ethnicity, 1990, 2000, 2010, and projected 2020. Last Modified Date: February 1, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_304.htm