What is Gerontology?

What is Gerontology?

Gerontology is the field of study that examines the physical, emotional, mental, and social changes and challenges that the elderly face. Changes in the aging population may present new challenges for the client and the caregivers.

Is there a Need for Gerontologists?

By 2040, one in five Americans will be over 65. Someone turning 65 has a 70% chance of needing long-term care services and support in their later years. Furthermore, Americans spend more than $160 billion yearly on retirement communities and nursing care facilities. So, it is no surprise that gerontology careers are a high-growth area, and there is a demand for professionals in this field.

Gerontology vs Geriatrics

This is a broad field. Gerontology is the study of aging in individuals over their life course. It is primarily a research-based academic field that may involve collaboration with experts from different disciplines. On the other hand, geriatrics is a field of medicine that focuses on providing care to the older population. For example, they may help an individual with Alzheimer’s disease cope with life changes.


What is gerontology? Gerontology and geriatrics have differing emphases. However, both aim to understand aging populations so people can maximize their functioning and achieve a high quality of life. The physical aspects of aging are the concentration of gerontology. However, it also includes the mental, social, and societal implications of aging. The field of gerontology has a multidisciplinary focus, so gerontologists practice a wide range of skills to improve the health of older adults. Their knowledge includes psychology, physiology, public health, social science, and also public policy.


Geriatrics is a medical specialty. It focuses on the medical aspects of aging and how the human body changes and adjusts over time. Furthermore, geriatric specialists and gerontologists have different training and certifications. Geriatricians complete medical school and perform a residency in geriatrics. However, there are many paths to work in gerontology. 

Subsectors of Gerontology

Aging experts may specialize in specific research areas, employing investigative research techniques and collaborating with other experts to contribute to the existing body of knowledge. For instance, a gerontologist who specializes in psychology may collaborate with a behavioral sociologist to study how the aging process affects mood and motivation.

The general subsectors of this field include.

  • Biogerontology is the subfield of gerontology that studies physiological changes and deals with the biological aspects of aging.
  • Psychological gerontology is the subfield of gerontology that studies the psychological effects of aging.
  • Social gerontology is the subfield of gerontology that studies the cultural differences that affect the aging and treatment of the elderly. It also examines the social aspects of aging and its socioeconomic impact on families and communities.

Studying the changes that individuals undergo in the context of their environment and in a historical context is an example of the depth and breadth of studies in this field. This study demonstrates how gerontologists document and analyze different aspects of the aging process, as seen from various angles.

Stages of Aging

The term gerontology was coined by Russian zoologist Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov in 1903. It is derived from the Greek words “Geron” and “logia,” which translate to old man and study. Psychologist James Birren organized this field of study in 1940. He identified three stages of aging that occur from middle age to late life.

  • Primary aging refers to studies focusing on naturally occurring physical symptoms, limitations, and deterioration of the human body due to aging processes.
  • Secondary aging is the sub-field that studies symptoms, illnesses, and diseases that exacerbate aging. These studies include chronic conditions such as hypertension and heart disease, critical conditions, including Alzheimer’s and cancer.
  • Tertiary aging is the third sub-field that studies cognitive and physical decline in the elderly shortly before death.

What is the Job Outlook for Gerontologists?

The number of 65 and older adults will reach 98 million by 2060, accounting for almost 24 percent of the total population, according to a report from the Population Reference Bureau generated from US Census Bureau numbers. The same report cites that the number of older adults over 65 has been rising steadily since 2010, as the first wave of the baby boomers reached the traditional retirement age.

Given these numbers, specialists in this field will find a broad demand for their expertise in outpatient care systems, hospitals, long-term care facilities, research tanks, and policy-making groups. The academic community will remain a hub for aging studies funded by private and public institutions. The field of gerontology will continue to make major strides in providing solutions to the challenges faced by an aging population in the United States and in the world.

What is Gerontology?

This interdisciplinary field includes elements of psychology, sociology, economics, and biology, among other disciplines. Because of its multidisciplinary approach, graduates who study gerontology qualify for careers in many growing fields. These include social work, health administration, policy experts, occupational therapy, and also many other disciplines.

What is a Gerontology Degree?

Gerontology degrees are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and some programs may also offer certifications or other specialized training. A degree in this academic field studies aging and older persons’ issues. Gerontology programs teach students how to address the mental, physical, and social needs of the elderly population. Below are several types of Gerontology degrees that students can earn.

Associate Degree

An associate degree is a two-year undergraduate degree. Students typically earn it at a community college or technical school. While it is not specifically a gerontology degree, there are two-year programs in fields related to gerontology that may be of interest to students considering a career in this field. For example, an associate degree in nursing with a focus on geriatric care or an associate degree in social work with a focus on gerontology could provide students with the foundation they need to begin working in the field of gerontology.

Alternatively, students who earn an associate degree in a related field, such as psychology or biology, could go on to earn a bachelor’s in gerontology or a related field, which would provide them with more advanced training in gerontology.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Gerontology

This undergraduate degree program gives students a broad understanding of gerontology and the challenges that older adults face.

Bachelor of Science (BS) in Gerontology

This undergraduate degree program focuses on the scientific part of aging. So, students have a strong foundation in biology and other natural sciences.

Gerontology Minor

This academic program allows students to minor in gerontology as part of their undergraduate degree. It typically includes a set of courses in gerontology and related fields.

Master of Arts (MA) in Gerontology

This graduate degree program provides students with advanced training in gerontology and prepares them for leadership roles in the field.

Master of Science (MS) in Gerontology

This graduate degree program focuses on the scientific aspects of aging and prepares students for research or academic careers in the field.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Gerontology

This doctoral degree program is for students who want to pursue careers in research or academia. It provides students with advanced training in gerontology and prepares them to make significant contributions to the field through their research.

Certificate in Gerontology

This short-term program provides students with specialized training in a particular aspect of gerontology, such as geriatric nursing or geriatric social work.

Where Do Gerontologists Work?

Those who earn a Gerontology degree may go on to work in various settings where they may provide direct care to older people or work on policy issues related to aging. Gerontologists can also work in a variety of career fields with aging adults. Below are some of the places where these professionals work.

  • Assisted Living Facilities
  • Community Health Clinics
  • Government Agencies
  • Hospitals and Hospices
  • Long-term Residential Care Facilities
  • Nursing Homes
  • Private Consulting for Corporations
  • Rehabilitation Facilities
  • Community Centers

What Do Gerontologists Do?

People are living longer than ever, resulting in an increasingly aging population. This demographic shift creates opportunities in every sector of the economy. So, there are positions in a wide array of fields for gerontologists.

Career opportunities for Gerontology Specialists depend on an individual’s interest and own life course and needs. Many gerontology degree holders work administrative roles and connect clients with direct service providers. Graduates who want to work with older populations also qualify for many traditional human services and healthcare positions. Additionally, there are emerging fields in areas like segmented marketing advertising for gerontologists. Below are some jobs for individuals with a degree in gerontology.

  • Art therapy
  • Education
  • Geriatric advocacy and care management
  • Grant writing
  • Grief counseling
  • Health education
  • Mental health counseling
  • Nursing
  • Occupational therapy
  • Pharmacy work
  • Public policy
  • Research
  • Senior housing

Assisted Living Director

Job: Assisted Living Directors are medical and health services managers. They may manage an entire senior living facility or nursing home. And they are responsible for changes in healthcare laws, regulations, and technology.

Median Salary: $101,340 per year

Entry-Level Education: bachelor’s degree

Job Outlook 2021-2031: 26% growth (BLS)

Elder Care Advocate

Job: Elder Care Advocates help educate senior citizens about available resources and services and help them apply for those benefits. They may research health care and social services for the aging population. Then, help clients review bills or insurance claims and also offer support after hospital visits.

Median Salary: $37,610 per year

Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent

Job Outlook 2021-2031: 12% growth (BLS)

Environmental Gerontologist

Job: Environmental Gerontology studies the interaction of people with their physical and social environments. They research societal changes and try to identify environmental factors that promote well-being and healthy aging so individuals can live healthier lives.

Median Salary: $47,320 per year (indeed)

Entry-Level Education: bachelor’s degree

Job Outlook 2021-2031: 0% growth (BLS)

Health and Wellness Director

Job: Gerontology Health and Wellness Directors teach older individuals about behaviors that promote wellness. These health workers typically complete a brief period of on-the-job training. The training covers communication, outreach, and information about specific health topics.

Median Salary: $48,860 per year

Entry-Level Education: bachelor’s degree

Job Outlook 2021-2031: 12% growth (BLS)

Social Worker in Gerontology (SW-G)

Job: Gerontology Social Workers help older people address the specific challenges of the aging process. This specialized social work promotes independence, dignity, and autonomy in their everyday lives.

Median Salary: $50,390 per year

Entry-Level Education: bachelor’s degree or master’s degree

Job Outlook 2021-2031: 9% growth (BLS)

Professional Organizations for Gerontology

American Geriatrics Society

The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a national society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that works to improve health, quality of life, and independence for older people.

Gerontological Society of America

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) started in 1945 to coordinate the studies conducted in this field. James Birren was one of the founding presidents of the organization.

National Association for Professional Gerontologists

The National Association for Professional Gerontologists (NAPG) is the authoritative organization for gerontology credentialing in the US. It validates professional experience and academic achievements and ensures members are competent practitioners.


What is Gerontology?