Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Betty Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy at the Brown School and the Director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging in the Institute for Public Health, is the recipient of the 2022 Maxwell A. Pollack Award for Contributions to Health Aging from The Gerontological Society of America (GSA).
Morrow-Howell — a international leader in gerontology, widely known for her work on productive and civic engagement of older adults — is a current fellow and past president of the GSA, the country’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging.
The Maxwell A. Pollack Award recognizes an individual whose research, scholarship or practice has generated new or improved policies or practices related to healthy aging.
“It’s an honor as a social worker to be recognized by my colleagues from all disciplines in this most prestigious of scholarly organizations on aging,” she said.
The award presentation took place at GSA’s 2022 Annual Scientific Meeting, which was held in November in Indianapolis.
Morrow-Howell has been on the faculty of the Brown School since 1987. She began her research career focusing on community-based services to under-resourced older adults needing personal assistance, in-home care, and mental health services. Then, she pivoted her interest to focusing on productive engagement of older adults in work, volunteering and caregiving roles.
“How to facilitate well-being throughout this longer lifespan. How to keep people engaged in work and volunteering. How to support caregivers,” she explained.
“Programs and policies aren’t enough. We are an ageist society. Age stereotypes and biases affect older adults’ experiences and lead to unequal access to opportunities for meaningful engagement. So, I’ve moved my work toward increasing awareness and reducing ageism.”
Five decades into her research, she sees the field of gerontology shifting away from viewing age only as a deficit to viewing age as an asset. She is an advisor to a national initiative, called Reframing Aging, which seeks to change the narrative about aging to include the full, more accurate story about older adults and aging societies.
“While there’s decline, there is also opportunity and potential; and we can change the way we view and live the longer years that have been given to us. So, the whole field has moved in that direction,” she said.
Older adults are projected to outnumber children under age 18 for the first time in U.S. history by 2034, according to United States Census Bureau projections. With the population getting older overall, Morrow-Howell thinks it’s imperative for the Brown School to nurture more students to pursue careers in the aging field.
Since aging affects every aspect of life for individuals, families and communities, she is encouraging students to pursue the Older Adults and Aging Societies Specialization, of which she is co-chair. It provides students with expertise in working with older adults, their families and the service delivery system for aging societies.
“Aging is everywhere. It’s not its own thing. It’s part of everything,” she said. “Students focusing on health, mental health, social and economic development, children and families….any of our concentrations, need to know something about older adults and aging society to be good practitioners, policymakers and advocates.”
As she gets older and gains personal insight on aging, it’s helped her teaching and research efforts.
“I’m 70 and have over time figured out more about aging and ageism. I think I can talk about these issues better. I can write about these issues better.”