Where can I study the anthropology of aging and the life course?

Four years ago, AAGE posted its first list of places to study the anthropology of aging, particularly for graduate students. The situation has not changed much in those four years, and students interested in aging have to do quite a lot of work to slowly sift through the profiles of faculty pages in anthropology, gerontology, human development and other fields to find people who have the skills and background to guide an advanced degree. Even when there are individuals, the program they are in might not be the best environment for an anthropologist. Here, we want to pool some of our knowledge to recommend some top picks for academic institutions for studying anthropology and aging. All have at least one anthropologist who does research on aging in the faculty, but some, like University of Iowa, Wayne State, and UMBC have several. They are listed by region in alphabetical order, and not ranked.

I was a little picky this time around. Last time I included programs that had social gerontology research and a complementary but loosely connected anthropology program with, for example, a medical focus. This time, I tried a little harder to focus on those programs where there was an integration between gerontology and anthropology, but I also took into account particularly unique programs or resources. If we missed your top pick, please leave a note in the comments section!

The Americas
Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging at McMaster University (Social Sciences)

Many of the faculty are located in the Department of Health, Aging and Social Sciences, great place to get an interdisciplinary education with an applied and policy related focus. Variety of pathways from BA in Aging and Society to a PhD in Social Gerontology. Anthro department with strong health focus.

*California State University Long Beach (Human Development)

CSULB is in the process of hiring permanent faculty specializing in ageing, but they already have several anthropologists in HD (Ouardani, Heidbrink, Rae-Espinoza) and a brand new Center for Successful Aging headed by AAGE past-president Iveris Martinez.

Purdue University

Sherri Briller and Amanda Veile are both anthropology affiliated members of the Center on Aging and the Life Course, which offers graduate degrees related to aging.

*UMBC Dept. of Anthropology, Sociology and Health Administration Policy

Several faculty with expertise in aging, including anthropology (Chard) Sociology (Eckert, Schumacher, Yamashita) and Policy (Wallace). Offers a graduate degree in gerontology with a social and behavioral focus.

*University of Iowa Aging Studies and Anthropology

Perhaps the highest concentration of anthropologists with expertise on aging of any University or research center (Buch, Seaman, Solimeo, Wentzell) with strong ties to other departments and research at the VA.

University of Michigan Social Work and Social Science joint PhD program

While the anthropology department does not have a specialization in aging, this combined program allows PhD students to combine with U of M’s excellent research in social work, with expertise on topics like gender, poverty, addiction.

*UC San Francisco Joint UC Berkeley medical anthropology program (PhD)

This unique program, co-founded by anthropologist Margaret Clark, has a long history of combining gerontology and social justice issues . The Institute of Health and Aging, located in nursing is involved in a range of social science research projects. Notable faculty with expertise in aging include Sharon Kaufman, Judith Barker, Kelly Knight, Lawrence Cohen (UC Berkeley).

University of Southern California, Leonard Davis

A 40 year old gerontology program with a range of degrees (a social science track undergrad, MA, PhD, and Graduate Certificate), USCLD has a wealth of resources for students of aging studies, including the Center for Digital Aging, the Center for Global Aging and the Family Caregiver Support Center.

*Wayne State University

Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology conducts a variety of research on health disparities and the WSU anthropology department with medical expertise. Offers a grad degree in a home department and mentorship from IOG. Notable faculty: Mark Luborsky, Jessica Robbins, Andrea Sankar.



National University of Singapore

NUS is one of the top universities in world rankings, and aging studies is a focus across several departments. The research environment includes the Center on Age Research and Education (CARE) and the Virtual Institute for the Study of Ageing. You can get an MA and/or PhD in anthropology (under sociology), with strengths in topics like family, migration, and Asian cultures.

Europe & UK

University of Amsterdam

The Program in Heath, Care and the Body doesn’t list aging in its aims and descriptions, but a number of the associated staff have research focuses in this area, and if you have read the recent collection of stories on dementia in somatosphere, you’ll know a bit about their extensive ethnographic project on long-term dementia care directed by cultural anthropologist Robert Pool. Variety of Masters programs and PhD opportunities.

University of Copenhagen

With 25 staff, it is one of the largest anthropology departments in Europe, with strengths including kinship, migration, and medical anthropology. It also hosts the Copenhagen Center for Healthy Aging. Pursue a PhD with notable staff with expertise in ageing include Susan Reynolds Whyte and Henrik Mikkelsen.

Max Planck International Research Network on Aging

The Research School provides funding for doctoral and postdoctoral students. PhD Students can get funding for up to a maximum of three years, Postdocs for up to a maximum of two years. Each student is affiliated with a participating institute, such as the MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (currently researching ageing and mobility) or the MPI of Social Anthropology.

Linköping University

LiU stands out for interdisciplinarity, so expect a broad and stimulating program from the Division of Ageing and Social Change. Anthropologist Eleonor Antelius is on staff, but others are very receptive to anthropological perspectives. Offers some undergrad course (English and Swedish) and a doctoral program.

Newcastle University

While there isn’t a proper Anthropology department, there is an interdisciplinary research focus on identities, embodiments and selves that includes anthropologist Catherine Degnen, a specialist in ageing. There are tremendous research resources on social gerontology through the Center for Translational Research in Public Health (FUSE) the Institute for Ageing and Health, at Newcastle University

Though not focused on anthropology specifically, useful lists of schools and institutions with reputable programs in aging studies can be found at Jenage. Other useful links for those interested in a career in gerontology can be found at the AGHE website.

Again, if you would like to see a program listed, please leave a comment and include a URL if possible.


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