Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work, and Director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at Washington University, is a leading scholar researching the productive engagement of older adults. She focuses on volunteerism and civic service in later life and studies the health effects of civic service as well as institutional strategies to increase the positive impact of civic engagement in an aging society. “More and more people live 20 to 30 years after leaving the workforce, and our society cannot afford the current vision of retirement as leisure,” Morrow-Howell says.
Due to medical and public health advances, a growing number of people can expect to live into their 8th and 9th decade of life. Morrow-Howell’s research of the critical societal impact of our rapidly aging population informs program and policy initiatives that make it easier for older adults to work longer, engage in educational and training activities, get involved in volunteer and civic work, and provide caregiving to family members in need. Recently, she conducted a study of a national civic service program where older adults serve school children with a low proficiency in reading and documented that, not only did the children learn to read better, the older volunteers were healthier because of their volunteer work.
Ultimately, Morrow-Howell hopes to encourage understanding of the best approaches to improving productive engagement of the aging population both for the sake of society as well as older adults themselves. Morrow-Howell says, “Changing demographics are putting extreme pressure on our health and social service systems. In response, we must change attitudes and expectations about what it means to be an older adult in this society.”
Working together, we will anticipate the challenges of the future and discover new knowledge to remove the barriers to productive living for older adults and improve the quality of life for all.