Culture, attitudes and environments affect aging


Human aging is the result of ongoing interplay between biological, behavioral and contextual influences. Contextual influences can be distinguished in beliefs and attitudes that are held by a given community or society. Traditional aspects of culture that influence aging environments are such things as the economic base, income distribution, family structure, and migration.  Contextual influences are also linked with the built environment and infrastructures that aging people encounter. For example, how do environmental factors such as stress or socio-economic status leave a mark on our genome or alter our aging trajectory.  Or how do environmental biases, such as age stereotypes or inaccessible surroundings, play out upon our health and well-being as we grow older?

The effect of different cultural aspects on aging trajectories is one of the three focal points for Columbia Aging Center researchers.

In the face of increased life expectancy, a key question facing governments, economists, industry, and individual families is how do we build a society - the social and build environment we live in - that longer lives as an asset and that works to keep people as engaged and healthy as possible for as long as possible.


Our research includes these components of culture. Beliefs: How do religions, stereotypes, self-projected life expectancy influence aging processes? How does membership in specific communities, such as LGBT elders, impact aging trajectories? Environment: How does the built environment affect us as we grow old? Institutions: How do changing family structures impact care and support systems? To learn more, please click here.


On the translational side, the Columbia Aging Center's faculty is involved in policy and project work to innovate cultural interventions to improve aging. Our work in the Age Friendly New York commission focuses on changes that may be introduced to the built environment. To illustrate the culture of urban aging, our award-winning “Exceeding Expectations,” was conceived as a digital story-telling project.