NIH awards $2.9 million to Center for Health and Wellbeing for research on aging

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $2.9 million over five years to the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs to support research exploring the relationships and impacts of people's health and quality of life as populations age.

The grant was awarded by the NIH's National Institute on Aging, which supports Demography of Aging Centers at a number of academic institutions. Princeton was first granted a Demography of Aging Center in 2004. Since its inception, the center has convened an interdisciplinary array of researchers from the Woodrow Wilson School and throughout the University to study the interrelationships among socioeconomic status, health and wellbeing as people age; decision-making and wellbeing among the elderly; and the determinants of health and wellbeing in aging populations across countries and within countries over time.

The new award will support the development of research resources, fund new and innovative small-scale pilot projects and foster the careers of scholars working on health, wellbeing and aging through the funding of related research.

"We are pleased and excited that the NIH will continue to support the Center on the Demography on Aging at Princeton and its ongoing research into key questions of health, wellbeing and aging," said Christina Paxson, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School and former director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing. "And, importantly, this funding will also support new scholarship in the field, contributing to policymakers' and the public's knowledge of important policy issues related to aging."

While the center involves a growing number of researchers, four senior Woodrow Wilson School faculty members are the core group of investigators: economists Anne Case, Angus Deaton and Paxson, and demographer Noreen Goldman.

Several senior Princeton researchers from other fields also play prominent roles, including Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, economist Alan Krueger, evolutionary biologist Jeanne Altman, psychologist Eldar Shafir and neuroscientist Jonathan Cohen.

The center also will include three new investigators: recently appointed Woodrow Wilson School faculty Taryn Dinkelman and Sam Schulhofer-Wohl, both economists; and Georges Reniers, a sociologist and demographer.

Among the research conducted as part of the initial round of NIH funding:

  • Case and Paxson have studied how early life environments and health outcomes influence educational attainment, employment, earnings and health in later life; and Case has examined the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on the wellbeing of older South Africans.  

  • Goldman has worked with colleagues at Princeton and elsewhere to pioneer efforts to produce and analyze data from "biosocial" surveys, which obtain socio-demographic information through interviews along with biological markers based on physical assessments and laboratory analyses.

  • Kahneman, co-recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, has worked with Krueger and collaborators at other universities on the measurement of wellbeing. This research group's influential body of work includes the development of the "Day Reconstruction Method," which is used to measure individuals' wellbeing over the course of a day.

  • Shafir's research has focused on descriptive analyses of judgment and decision-making, and on topics surrounding behavioral economics and applications to policy. An emphasis of his experimental work is on how people make decisions in situations of conflict and uncertainty.

  • Deaton has examined a range of issues related to health, income and aging, including recent cross-country analyses of wellbeing using the Gallup World Poll data. He has found evidence that, when a wide range of rich and poor countries are considered, there is a strong positive association between income and life satisfaction, and that the associations between life satisfaction and age vary across countries.