International Comparisons Provide New Insights on Aging

For Immediate Release
August 17, 2021

Contact: Todd Kluss
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As lifespans increase and fertility rates decrease in most countries around the world, population aging has the potential to become what the United Nations calls one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century.

International comparisons of the aging experience offer a unique opportunity to advance understanding of social and economic influences on aging, say University of Southern California (USC) researchers Jennifer Ailshire, PhD, FGSA, and Jinkook Lee, PhD, who served as the editors of “Cross-National Comparisons of Social and Economic Contexts of Aging,” a recent supplement to The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences published by The Gerontological Society of America.

“We are at a pivotal moment for increasing our capacity to use a global perspective to meet the challenges and opportunities of our rapidly aging world,” said Ailshire, an associate professor of gerontology and sociology and assistant dean of international programs and global initiatives at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “Better aging outcomes in one country may provide evidence for the efficacy of the country’s policies and programs for supporting health and aging, while comparative research also can be used to identify social and economic determinants of aging that are common across countries, highlighting important directions in which to focus our efforts to improve health and well-being at older ages.”

The papers presented in the issue examine social and economic factors across the life course from a variety of perspectives. Topics include comparative research on the impacts of early-life socioeconomic position on later-life cognitive functioning, younger-life work trajectories on health at older ages, and the availability of family caregivers on end-of-life care. Each paper leverages the Gateway to Global Aging Data, a USC-based a platform for population survey data on aging around the world. 

“This research shows the promise of cross-national comparative research on aging with harmonized data and highlights potential new lines of inquiry for the research community,” said Lee, the principal investigator of the Gateway to Global Aging Data and director of the Global Aging, Health and Policy program at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. “Significant differences in family, social environment and health indicators across countries call for research attention, and the Gateway is a valuable resource for these types of investigations.”

The supplement will be followed by a series of webinars and discussions to continue conversation and collaboration around facilitating future cross-national analyses.

“The papers published in this supplement provide new and innovative insights into the complex ways that micro- and macrosocial factors shape the experiences of older adults worldwide,” said Deborah Carr, PhD, FGSA, the outgoing editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences and a professor of sociology at Boston University. “Addressing obstacles to cross-national research will be key to advancing work in the future.”


The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed publication of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society.

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