Population aging has
become a central fact and force of modern life. Population
aging refers to steady increases in the number and proportion
of older people in society.
Fueled by improvements in
our standard of living, the elimination of many deadly
diseases, and better medical care, Americans are leading
longer and healthier lives than ever before.
present, there are almost 36 million Americans aged 65 and
older. Together, they account for nearly 13% of all Americans,
compared to only 4% in 1900. By 2003, the average life
expectancy in the United States had climbed to 77.6 years,
from less than 50 years at the turn of the century.
The factors noted above are expected to lead to even
larger numbers of older Americans in the future. Additionally,
exceptionally large numbers of individuals born in the years
following World War II will reach old age during the first
half of the 21st Century. It has been projected that the
presence of these aging "baby boomers" will push the
proportion of aged Americans up to nearly 20% by the year
While the aged are
characterized by tremendous diversity, they often share
distinctive health, social, and economic concerns and needs.
This fact and the rapid aging of our population are creating a
growing market for specialized goods and services tailored to
the needs of older Americans.
This growing market is
extremely broad in nature, encompassing products and services
for "well-elders" as well as those for elders whose
independence is being compromised by serious illness and/or
disability. Those who serve this new market are equally
diverse, ranging from small entrepreneurs to national
corporations in the for-profit sector, to not-for-profit
organizations, and to public agencies and programs at the
federal, state, and local levels.
The following goods
and services are frequently sought by and/or benefit older
persons and their families. Center for Studies in Aging alumni
currently work in nearly all of these areas.
- Leisure, Recreation and Travel Services
- Retirement Planning and Job Placement
- Counseling and Social Casework
- Educational Programs
- Volunteer and Intergenerational
- Retirement Housing for Independent
- Health Promotion and Fitness Programs
- Adult Day Care
- Specialized Housing for Senior with
- Long-term Health Care in Skilled Nursing
- Information and Referral Services
- On-site and Home-Delivered Meal Programs
- Home and Community-based Health Services
- Case Management
- Adult Protective Services
- Senior Advocacy
- Area Agency on Aging-based Planning
- Architectural, Environmental and Product
- Senior Center Activities and
These goods and services can be provided in a
variety of work settings including voluntary and professional
associations; community agencies; facilities such as
retirement communities, nursing homes, hospitals or health
clinics; corporations, and governmental agencies at the
federal, state or local level.
The Association for Gerontology in Higher
Education (AGHE) has identified seven roles that trained
gerontologists may play in the provision of goods and services
designed for older persons. They include:
Provision: Working "one-on-one"
with the elderly and their families to determine their
individual needs and provide assistance.
Program Planning and
Evaluation: Establishing the
interests and needs of older persons at the community level,
designing programs to meet these needs, and determining the
effectiveness of such programs.
Administration: Overseeing the
daily operation of facilities, agencies or programs
addressing the needs of the aged and their
Marketing and Product Development: Identifying
the unmet product and service needs of older persons and
informing the aged of new products or services in an
effective and acceptable manner.
Articulating the need of older people and urging the
adoption of public or private programs designed to meet
Education and Training: Developing and delivering educational
programming responsive to the needs of older persons or
those who serve them.
Carrying out research on the nature of the aging process and
on the effectiveness of intervention programs and
*Adapted from: Careers in Aging,
AGHE, 1996, p. 86.
Because the quality and effectiveness of goods
and services for the aged depends on a thorough understanding
of the aging process and the myriad of providers, programs,
and policies directed to the elderly, the demand for trained
gerontologists is expected to increase steadily in the coming
decades. At the same time, as the elderly account for an
increasing proportion of health and social service caseloads,
the demand for nurses, social workers, and other professionals
with expertise in gerontology may also be expected to grow.
Since most of those currently in practice trained at a time or
place that afforded little exposure to gerontology, those who
are able to secure such training through additional coursework
should be at a competitive employment advantage.
brochure Careers in Aging cites the following benefits of
selecting a career in the field of gerontology:
"Within six months of graduation,
approximately 70% of gerontology/geriatrics graduates are
employed full-time in a professional position related to
aging. This percentage is similar to that achieved by
graduates in other human service fields but is higher than
for graduates from liberal arts programs in general." p. 13
"Beginning annual salaries
range from $18,000 to $31,000 for persons with a bachelor's
degree and little experience. Salaries can rise in
metropolitan areas to $30,000 to $45,000 annually.
Professionals with a master's
degree but limited experience can expect higher entry pay
--- usually in the $25,000 to $35,000 range. Experienced
professionals earn from $35,000 to $75,000 per year, while
annual salaries for administrators range from $45,000 in
rural areas to $80,000 or higher in large areas."
"A survey of Midwestern
gerontology program graduates found that 85% were satisfied
with their current jobs, were enthusiastic about their
career choice, and plan to continue working in the field of
*Adapted from: Careers in Aging,