Sociology Gerontology
Daniel Lanford, Jill Quadagno, Sunshine Rote
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0023


Social gerontology is a subfield of gerontology. It is concerned mainly with the social, rather than the biological, aspects of aging. However, social gerontologists do study how biological processes influence the social conditions of aging. Societal aging is one of the most important social trends of this century. It affects the major political, social, and economic institutions as well as the nature of interpersonal and familial relationships. Key issues concern how population aging influences retirement patterns, income security, health care, and politics, and how these trends, in turn, affect the policy options available. Social gerontologists recognize, however, that old age is just one life stage and that the quality of later life is determined by events, opportunities, and decisions made earlier in life. Thus, many studies in this field adopt a framework that emphasizes the life course as a way to make sense of long-term trends and to explain differences among groups on the basis of race, gender, class, and ethnic origin. The life course perspective also provides a roadmap for thinking about how health, social relationships, and socioeconomic status change over time and across life stages.


For undergraduate or beginning graduate students, three textbooks, in particular, provide a general overview of the field of social gerontology. Each emphasizes a different focus with Cavanaugh and Blanchard-Fields 2017 adopting a biosocial perspective, Hooyman and Kiyak 2014 providing an orientation toward applied issues, and Quadagno 2018 examining core sociological issues.

  • Cavanaugh, John C., and Fredda Blanchard-Fields. 2017. Adult development and aging. 8th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.

    This text covers the specific age-stages of adult development and aging from a biosocial perspective. The book’s focus is on “positive aging” and the gains and losses that people experience across adulthood.

  • Hooyman, Nancy R., and H. Asuman Kiyak. 2014. Social gerontology: A multidisciplinary perspective. 9th ed. Boston: Harlow Pearson.

    This is a basic introductory text oriented toward social work and practice issues. It discusses critical issues in aging and emphasizes differences by age and cohort, gender, ethnic-minority status, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.

  • Quadagno, Jill. 2018. Aging and the life course: An introduction to social gerontology. 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill.

    This is a comprehensive interdisciplinary text in social gerontology. It examines changes in social roles, relationships, and the biological and psychological processes that occur as people grow older. It also considers all major life transitions, including retirement, widowhood, grandparenting, and entry into a long-term care setting.

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