Why Gerontology Needs Anthropology: Toward an Applied Anthropological Gerontology

Britteny M. Howell, M. Aaron Guest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this essay, we argue that gerontologists should increase their engagement with anthropologists to increase transdisciplinary collaboration, fulfill the interdisciplinary promise of gerontology as a field, and to ensure the work of anthropologists is formed by, and employed in, situations where meaningful engagement with practitioners and policymakers can lead to social change. Anthropology is the study of human societies in historical, biological, and sociocultural context, comprising a holistic field of study that can contribute unique methods, approaches, and theories to the field of gerontology. Although increasing amounts of anthropological scholarship have focused on older adulthood, this critical work of anthropologists still needs to be utilized by those in positions of power to enact change. Furthermore, the work conducted by anthropologists of aging has not consistently been recognized as anthropological scholarship. Therefore, a notable gap exists between the promise of the anthropology of aging and the utilization of the field, its findings, and engagement with the broader gerontological academy. As such, the contributions of anthropology to aging scholarship and the resulting reduction in inequities in the aging experience are not always adequately recognized. By examining the history of anthropology’s engagement with aging and the lifecourse, we argue for a more applied anthropological gerontology. We conclude with a call to action to ensure that anthropological gerontology is seen as a fundamental branch of scholarship, both within anthropology and gerontology, which can be used to improve the lived experiences of older adults globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
JournalSocial Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • aging
  • applied anthropology
  • cultural factors
  • gerontology
  • health care policy
  • health outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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