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A lack of proper exposure to working with older adults contributes to the shortage of social workers pursuing a career in gerontology

Wang D, Chonody J.  Social workers’ attitudes toward older adults: A review of the literature  Journal of Social Work Education. January 2013; 49(1): 150-172.

Review question

What are the attitudes of social workers towards gerontology?


Despite the increasing number of older adults in the United States, the shortage of professionals focused on providing care to them has been consistently documented in the literature.

Barriers to attracting social work students to the gerontology workforce include a perception that higher status comes with working with children or adolescents, limited experience working with older adults, anxiety related to personal aging, a perception that older adults are depressed, lonely and unhygienic, and that the work will be low in salary and not challenging.

In response, this review aims to identify what is known about social work students and professional social workers, and their perceptions about working with older adults, to highlight what is next in social work education that can promote gerontology career choices.

How the review was done

A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 1970 to 2010 was conducted. Studies that focused on the attitudes of social work students and employed social workers on working in gerontology as a career were included in this review.

A total of 84 studies were identified in searches, and 20 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

The authors did not acknowledge any funding sources for this review.

What the researchers found

Although the studies varied in terms of their aims and measures, the review found that the attitudes of social work students about gerontology were generally positive or neutral compared to other major fields of study in social work.

The existing negative attitudes of working with older adults seemed to stem from a lack of exposure to studying or working in gerontology. Many students highlighted that they did not feel they had adequate coursework or training to work with older adults, thus deterring them from a career in gerontology. In addition, it was found that among students studying for a bachelor’s degree in social work, more would consider gerontology as a career path compared to those studying for a master’s degree in social work.


The findings of this review highlight the perceptions of social work students and employed social workers regarding working in gerontology. Although the attitudes towards gerontology among those studying for or working in social work were generally positive or neutral, a lack of proper exposure to working with older adults seemed to contribute to the shortage of professionals pursuing this career path.

In response, this review identified the need for further investigation to find effective educational strategies to promote the choice of gerontology as a career path at both the bachelor’s and master’s educational level. This investigation could identify an effective curriculum for social work students that would promote gerontology, and in turn, respond to the increasing demand of social services from older adults due to the aging population.

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