As a society, our population is growing older, and doing so at a rapid pace. According to the United States Census Bureau, every day about 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old. This demographic shift has major implications.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What is Gerontology?
- What Can You Do With a Degree or Minor in Gerontology?
- What Exactly Does a Gerontologist Do?
People are living longer. Older people are requiring more care later in their lives. Our workforce is becoming more multigenerational. And as there are more older than younger people, market power is shifting to older consumers.
Given the above trends, a growing field of study and practice is that of gerontology, or the study of aging processes and the older population. The industry of gerontology is so wide, that it can include many varieties of specialities. So what exactly is gerontology, and who are the people who practice within the industry?
What is Gerontology?
As mentioned above, gerontology is a field dedicated to the study of older populations and the types of care and processes related to aging. It involves a combination of demography, social sciences, and public health classes, in addition to encompassing the policies, practices, and programs that affect older persons.
People studying gerontology learn about resources that are available for older people. These could be state, federal, or local types of initiatives. In the U.S., that includes research on Social Security and Medicare.
That being said, you don’t have to pretend to be old or be old to study gerontology. People that study gerontology don’t have to lay a personal claim to understand what it’s like to be old. Through the study of gerontology, they develop a deeper understanding of the way older individuals think, act, and what they value.
Gerontologists are aware of life transitions and experiences encountered through those transitions. Some examples may include retirement, end-of-life planning, and losing loved ones. These are all a part of the aging process. In turn, gerontologists become equipped to help people navigate the long-term care system and are able to connect older individuals with organizations that can meet their needs.
Apart from guiding older people through these stages, gerontologists also study market research, as older individuals make up a large and growing segment of consumers. Also, given their maturity and lifestyle, they may also have the largest spending power. Older consumers are now referred to as the “mature market population.”
As subject matter experts regarding aging, gerontologists can offer valuable insight to companies. They bring expertise about the needs, wants, and preferences of older consumers. Additionally, they know that preferred methods of communication differ by age group.
Gerontologists can help organizations and companies with language surrounding aging. Some terms that refer to older adults have become outdated and likely may not resonate with them.
For example, using the words “elderly” or “senior citizen” is not as appealing to older persons. In fact, it could be rather offensive. However, with their expertise, gerontologists can help companies market products and services more effectively. And on the flip side, they can also help companies adapt products to the changing demands of older consumers.
What Can You Do With a Degree or Minor in Gerontology?
As an academic discipline, gerontology is fairly new, having emerged over the past several decades. The first doctoral programs emerged in the late 1980s and only seven additional programs have developed since that time.
For the most part, preparing to work within the long-term care sector is considered to be a more traditional track. This may include working at an assisted living, independent living, or skilled nursing home. It may also involve developing or fostering communities within other types of senior living. There are also plenty of organizations that provide care within the community, like senior centers, home care agencies, and adult day facilities.
As mentioned above, with the growing numbers of aging populations, there are also many startups creating new devices or platforms for aging-specific matters. Many folks are developing apps focused on caregiving, hearing solutions, and social media to make it easier for older folks. Understanding customer success and product experience is becoming an entire sector alone.
Suffice to say, there are many career opportunities under the study of gerontology because it feeds into everything else. For example, other fields may have aging-related tracks such as social work, mental health, nursing, and architectural design.
In addition, Gerontologists also can work with cities or local communities to adapt environments to be more inclusive to older adults.
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What Exactly Does a Gerontologist Do?
On the whole, gerontologists aim to make the world a more accessible and amenable place to grow older in many ways and in industries.
Whether it’s working within the local community via nonprofits or via government, gerontologists are positioned to provide expertise to change policies and practices to make them more just for all people, including older populations. They help in the organizing of community-based services, transportation, and social engagement opportunities.
Gerontology expertise applies to caregiving and providing medical or non-medical help. They consult on developing and improving useful and user-friendly technologies. They can help individuals navigate and coordinate care within the long-term care system. They can analyze the efficacy of all systems applicable to older adults.
A gerontologist can be a consultant, researcher, policy expert, director of community relations, software developer, and more.
Gerontologists also believe the older population is a new and growing resource. Gerontologists value older adults, the contributions they've made, and the contributions they continue to make in our communities. In the end, gerontologists advocate for the older population, how their lives can be improved, and as a result, how they improve ours.
Here are some questions that gerontologists ask:
- How is your business reaching older consumers?
- How does their buying power relate to this product, service, or marketing campaign?
- How can we adapt products or services to be more user-friendly?
- How can older adults be a part of the process?
The Future of Aging
It’s no doubt that the world is changing every day. Some refer to this shift in values as the "silver tsunami." As we move forward, the number of aging professionals will increase dramatically and with more aging family members and populations, this change is something that affects us all.
Gerontology professionals are a resource that can help us adapt to demographic changes. As part of every industry, gerontologists can change the way the world works to help everyone eventually live longer and happier, and to develop options we can look forward to as we age.
All in all, elder care is one of the fastest-growing industries and is no longer limited to long-term or medical care The study of aging applies to almost any sector of work.
- The United States Census Bureau. “By 2030, All Baby Boomers will be 65 or older.” www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/12/by-2030-all-baby-boomers-will-be-age-65-or-older.html
- AARP. “The Longevity Economy: How People over 50 are Driving Economic and Social Value. www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/personal-technology/2016/09/2016-Longevity-Economy-AARP.pdf
- The United States Census Bureau. “By 2020 all Baby Boomers Will be 65 or Older.” Published 19, December 2019. www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/12/by-2030-all-baby-boomers-will-be-age-65-or-older.html
- California State University. “Interesting Facts about Gerontology.” hss.fullerton.edu/agingstudies/docs/gero_fact_sheet_12-07-15.pdf
- “What Can I do with a Doctoral Degree in Gerontology? Expanding Your Options.” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4055552/