Aging studies scholars from around the world convened at Syracuse University June 3-6 for the Aging Families/Changing Families International Conference hosted by the Aging Studies Institute and the International Sociological Association (ISA) Research Committees on Aging and Family. More than 120 attendees participated in the three-day event that included daily keynote speakers, 17 sessions and 78 presentations of original research focused on aging in the context of family life.

The Marjorie Cantor Professor of Aging Studies, Merril Silverstein. Ph.D., organized the conference, which was sponsored by the Maxwell School and Falk College, where he holds join appointments. In his invitation to participants, he noted “the event will provide a stimulating environment for social scientists to engage in rich scholarly exchanges regarding research and policies related to families in later life.” Conference planning partners included ASI Director, Janet Wilmoth, Ph.D., ASI Assistant Director, Debra Gamble, and ASI Administrative Assistant, Katherine Hills. Graduate students volunteered to ensure the conference ran smoothly.

Conference attendees represented colleges and universities from four continents and nearly two dozen countries, including Canada, Chile, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Romania, and Switzerland. Individuals from the German Centre of Gerontology and the Singapore Ministry of Social and Family Development also participated. Welcome remarks were provided by Syracuse University Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost, Elizabeth Liddy, Ph.D., Maxwell School Dean, James Steinberg, J.D., and Deborah Monahan, Ph.D., Falk College Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Social Work. Faculty from the Maxwell School, Falk College, and the College of Law, who are also ASI affiliates, presented research and moderated panel discussions. Click here to view conference program.

According to Janet Wilmoth, “the participants presented on a range of topics—including grandparenting, caregiving, marriages and unions, intergenerational relationships, sexual health, and migration. Their high-quality research contributes to our understanding of worldwide population aging by demonstrating the variation in experiences across individuals, families and countries.”

Keynote speakers included Andrew Cherlin, Ph.D., the Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Public Policy and Department Chair, Sociology, Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts & Sciences; Ingrid Arnet Connidis, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Western University, London, Canada, and; Martin Kohli, Ph.D., Distinguished Bremen Professor and Emeritus Professor, Sociology, European University Institute. ASI will produce a policy brief based on each of these keynote addresses.

In the session, “Grandparents as Caregivers,” moderated by director of the School of Social Work and associate professor, Carrie Jefferson Smith, presenters shared a global snapshot of research focused on the physical and mental health of caregiving grandparents specific to Korea, the United States, China, Italy and the Philippines. Madonna Harrington-Meyer, the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence, who serves as Graduate Director, Sociology and a Senior Research Affiliate, Center for Policy Research, in the Maxwell School, presented “Grandmother’s Juggling Work and Grandchildren: Impact on Social, Emotional and Physical Well-Being.” Her research addressed positive and negative health impacts learned during qualitative research with caregiving grandmothers. One discussion point noted that in countries where policies and social supports were in place, there was less caregiving required of grandmothers. “Policies like the Family and Medical Leave Act and Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program help young families,” noted Harrington. “But these supports can also relieve the burden on the older generation.”

Later that day in the session “Linked Lives and Within-Family Processes,” Nina Kohn, J.D., Associate Dean for Research and David M. Levy L’48 Professor of Law, moderated five presentations. “Intergenerational Relationships and the Non-Transmission of Religious Values” was presented by Vern Bengston, Ph.D., Faculty Research Associate at the University of Southern California, which was a collaboration with Merril Silverstein. The two will continue their research on positive outcomes for older individuals, their families, and society related to religious engagement in later life with recently funded projects from the John Templeton Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

“It was an honor for ASI to organize this conference for ISA,” says Debra Gamble. “It is our hope that the conference participants will build on the knowledge they gained and the professional connections made to further their research on aging and families.”