Gerontology studies all aspects of the biological aging process. Read on to learn about degree options and jobs available in this field as well as employment outlook and salary data to decide if this is the right career decision.
Gerontology is the study of aging and its associated social, biological and mental processes. Career opportunities exist in a multitude of areas, such as healthcare, research, government, education, housing and recreation. For example, you might work as a human services assistant or social worker for older adults, helping them with medication compliance or applying for benefits that include Medicaid and government-supported housing. You could also perform medical research on diseases of aging, like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease, or study common relational behaviors of society and families toward elderly populations. In addition to research, academic programs in gerontology can offer courses in public policy, human services and social aspects of aging, leading to careers in social services.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers were expected to see 19% job growth, and social service assistant jobs were projected to grow 22% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). The main reason behind the faster-than-average increases in these professions was attributed to the larger numbers of elderly people within the U.S. Median salaries fluctuated based on the type of service, with healthcare social workers earning an income of $50,820, mental health social workers making $40,970 and family social workers taking home $42,120 as of May 2013.
If you're interested in exploring diseases, cures and treatments related to aging, you could work in research through universities, hospitals, private industry or government agencies. The BLS stated that jobs for medical research scientists were expected to increase by 13%, due in part to innovations in biotechnology and the continued federal support to finding causes and solutions to many diseases, including those that afflict aged populations. The median annual salary in 2013 for medical research scientists was $79,840. Those working in industries such as the offices of health practitioners, the federal government and the offices of physicians averaged over $100,000 per year, according to the BLS.
Many entry-level positions that support the elderly require only a high school diploma. If you'd like to start working before you finish your studies, you might consider jobs at a nursing home or adult day care facility. Undergraduate certificates and associate's degrees in gerontology focus on social services for aging populations and allow career advancement to management positions.
More advanced professions, such as gerontology nurse, exercise therapist, policy developer and program director, require a bachelor's or graduate degree with relevant work experience. A bachelor's degree in gerontology includes studies of family and consumer sciences, along with anthropology and human behavior. As a student in this type of program, you could take courses on death and dying, leisure, sexuality and retirement, all as they pertain to aging.
Master's degree and doctoral (Ph.D.) programs related to gerontology focus on the sociology and psychology of older populations. With a master's degree, you can usually qualify for jobs in social work, healthcare management and academia. A Ph.D. degree is usually required to teach at the university level or if you conduct medical research, though you could further your studies by attending medical school and earning a Doctor of Medicine. In a master's or Ph.D. program in gerontology, you could take advanced courses on the environment and aging, nutrition, research methods and statistical analysis as well as conduct research in your area of interest.