Gerontology is the study of the aging process--how people change physically, emotionally and socially as they age; how the aging process changes society; and how to apply this knowledge to policies and programs. Online health care degrees in gerontology can be applied to work in a variety of fields, including biology, sociology, public policy, economics and the humanities. Regardless of specialty, an aging U.S. population should create plenty of job opportunities for those with degrees in gerontology.
Gerontology spans many careers
A number of career paths are available in the field of gerontology, and professionals can opt to work directly with the aging population or work on behalf of this population by researching or educating others about aging issues.
Gerontology careers for those working directly with the aging population include:
- Program development
- Care giving
- Financial planning and investment advising
Gerontology careers for those interested in an advocacy or education role include:
- Lobbying for the aging population in institutions or with legislative bodies
- Teaching courses on aging
- Research on aging and associated diseases such as Alzheimer's and osteoporosis
- Planning, administering and evaluating community-based programs for the aging population
- Product design and consumer advice for businesses targeting the aging population
3 paths to gerontology education
Educational programs are available on campus and online in this subject, including certificates and all degree levels from associate to postdoctoral. Finding the right gerontology degree depends on a student's career goals and learning style.
The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education breaks down the three main educational avenues for students interested in gerontology:
- Selecting gerontology as a sub-specialty in a traditional academic major such as political science, medicine, psychology or nursing.
- Obtaining an on-campus or online degree in gerontology.
- Choosing non-credit continuing education coursework in gerontology to enhance an existing career.
As the population ages, a need for specialists in gerontology should arise in a number of professions from health care to urban planning to product design, according to a research paper by Martha Bial of Fordham University. Online degrees in gerontology or continuing education programs allow working professionals to add a gerontology specialization to their existing credentials, positioning them to take advantage of new career opportunities in the field.
Gerontology careers: abilities, salaries and possibilities
Gerontology is a relatively new and growing field, so students have the opportunity to innovate and grow with their career. The skill set for employment in gerontology varies depending on the area of specialization. For those who work directly with older adults, empathy and compassion, cultural awareness, excellent communication skills, and a caring nature can all contribute to success in any gerontology career. Gerontology professionals working in public policy or planning benefit from strong organizational and research skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) rapid job growth is expected in all fields related to gerontology--social workers, counselors, community service managers and many others. Although the BLS doesn't collect wage information specifically for those in gerontology careers, Salary.com shows a salary range of $30,968-$116,600 in 2011 for those working in gerontology. The wide salary range reflects the diversity of careers in the field.
As baby boomers age, careers in gerontology can only grow in scope and number. Research from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics reports: "The number of older people will increase dramatically during the 2010-2030 period. The older population in 2030 is projected to be twice as large as their counterparts in 2000, growing from 35 million to 72 million and representing nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population."
At a glance:
- According to the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, more than 500 schools offer more than 1000 programs in aging.
- One out of five Americans will be 65 or older by 2030
- Careers in gerontology span everything from program development and care giving to research on aging and lobbying for the aging population in legislative bodies.