Focus on Gerontology: Managing the Aging Baby Boomers

May 29, 2024

Elder care stock photo

By Peter Craig

The aging baby boomer population is reaching critical mass. In 2020, according to the Census Bureau, that group numbered some 73 million—the second-largest segment of the U.S. population after Millennials—with 55.8 million of boomers, or 16.8% of the U.S. population, being age 65 or over. By 2030, all boomers will have hit 65 and their share of the population will be around 20%.

In the face of this dramatic surge in older Americans—disparagingly referred to as the “Gray Tsunami”—there is an enormous need for social workers, and lots of job opportunities. The challenge has been getting more social work students interested. “Students generally don’t come into social work thinking they can work with older adults,” says Dr. Susanny J. Beltran, assistant professor, University of Central Florida School of Social Work. “They think about trauma, about children, about police work, maybe policy work—the popular notions of what social workers do.” In fact, the total number of elder-focused social work students in the U.S. has often been below 5%.

The joint goals in elder-care education at many social work schools have been: (1) trying to increase the number of students focusing on older adults, and (2) giving all students some aging-related content, says Dr. Nancy Kusmaul, associate professor, University of Maryland-Baltimore County School of Social Work, whose own interest in working with older adults stemmed from early experience. “I was a kid who hung out with my great-grandmother at family gatherings. She and I made pasta together and played cards. I have good associations with that.”

Read the full story in the NASW Social Work Advocates magazine.