International Comparisons Provide New Insights on Aging

USC faculty co-edit publication examining impacts of social and economic factors across the life course.

Jennifer Ailshire Portrait
Associate Professor Jennifer Ailshire

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 USC researchers Jennifer Ailshire and Jinkook Lee, editors of Cross-National Comparisons of Social and Economic Contexts of Aging, a supplement to the June issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, a flagship publication of 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, 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,  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 appears both in print and online and 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 special issue provide new and innovative insights into the complex ways that micro- and macrosocial factors shape the experiences of older adults worldwide,” said Deborah Carr, outgoing editor of the journal and professor of sociology at Boston University. “Addressing obstacles to cross-national research will be key to advancing work in the future.”