When Aging Out Means ‘Going Without’

UM sociologist researching elders, rural poverty with National Institutes of Health grant

UM sociologist John Green is part of a national, interdisciplinary network of researchers working to put a spotlight on aging Americans and work to improve their lives. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The United States is largely a citified nation. More than 81 percent of the country’s population resides in urban areas, meaning that a dwindling number of people – and resources – are available for rural America.

As a result, people in one-stoplight towns and smaller cities – for example, Water Valley, population: 3,600 – are disproportionately sick and poor as they grow old. Lacking critical resources such as adequate health care, they are dying younger than peers living in larger cities.

The struggles of rural Americans have remained largely invisible to the rest of the country, but John Green, a University of Mississippi sociology professor and director of the university’s Center for Population Studies, aims to change that.

He and a team of colleagues at Pennsylvania State University, Syracuse University and the University of Colorado have been awarded a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. These funds will build a national, interdisciplinary network of researchers to put a spotlight on aging Americans and work to improve their lives.

“Rural America is not a monolithic group,” Green said. “The problems are multilevel and multidimensional, so we need experts on economics, health care and population studies to gather the information needed to bring greater resources to rural areas.

“We want to have a positive, sustained and powerful impact on the health of aging people there.”

The Center for Population Studies was established to educate, conduct research and engage in public outreach concerning population issues, including the challenges facing rural, elderly Americans.

“This generous grant from NIH is a remarkable achievement for the University of Mississippi,” said Jeffrey T. Jackson, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “It brings us into the company of some of the top research programs in this field. Just as significant, John’s research extends far beyond academia into the lives of underserved people who often lack basic resources, such as health care and clean water. He cares about communities, and this grant will help him continue his mission.”

Green’s public outreach already has improved the lives of Mississippians through the CPS Society and Health Research Initiative. The initiative’s projects focus on essential issues, such as health care, clean water and hunger. He is involved in projects in the Gulf Coast region and the Delta.

“I use research to help solve problems in communities,” said Green, who has published more than 25 articles in leading academic journals. “I want to improve access to services for people living in rural communities, especially areas with limited resources and minority populations.”

This research is funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award No. R24AG065159, administered through Pennsylvania State University.