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Older adults experience diverse stressors including the deaths of family and friends, health declines, isolation, and financial insecurity. Yet most older adults maintain positive mental health even in the face of stress and loss. In this talk, I describe what psychological resilience and why are older adults so good at it. I then focus on one specific stress, spousal loss, and provide results from several recent studies challenging conventional wisdom that grief is universal. I show why and how significant proportions of older adults maintain positive mental health in the face of spousal bereavement, and identify the personal, relationship, and contextual factors linked with psychological resilience. I conclude by discussing avenues for future research on late-life resilience.
Deborah Carr is Professor and Chair in the Sociology department at Boston University. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1997. Dr. Carr has held faculty positions at University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, and most recently at Rutgers University, where she was acting director of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy & Aging Research. Her research interests include aging and the life course, psychosocial factors influences on health over the life course, and end-of-life issues. Dr. Carr is an enthusiastic teacher, and has co-authored two popular introductory sociology textbooks, a research methods, and her latest book, entitled Golden Years: Social Inequalities in Later Life. Dr. Carr is a member of the honorary organization Sociological Research Association and is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. She has served as deputy editor of Social Psychology Quarterly and Journal of Marriage and Family, and as trends editor of Contexts (an American Sociological Association publication). She is currently editor-in-chief of Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences for the 2015-2020 term. Dr. Carr has held offices in the American Sociological Association including chair of the Aging & Life Course section, and is now chair of the Medical Sociology section. She served as Chair of the Board of Overseers of the General Social Survey, and is a co-investigator on the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) and Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS). She is principal investigator of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), and recently served a four-year term (2015-19) on the National Institutes of Health’s Social Sciences and Population Studies B (SSPB) study section. Dr. Carr is a strong proponent of public sociology, and enjoys speaking to the general public about issues related to aging, health, stress and families. Her recent media appearances include the New York Times, ABC Nightly News, and Forbes, and her recent essays have been published in The Hill, Psychology Today, and elsewhere.