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Life-Course Implications of US Public Policy

Janet M. Wilmoth and Andrew S. London

Routledge, June 2021

Book cover for Life-Course Implications of US Public Policies by Wilmoth and London

Janet M. Wilmoth and Andrew S. London, two professors from the Maxwell School’s Department of Sociology, the Aging Studies Institute and the Center for Aging and Policy Studies, co-edited a new book “Life-Course Implications of U.S. Public Policies” (Routledge, 2021). The 11 chapters in the book by leading scholars of aging and the life course are written to be accessible to a broad range of audiences. Collectively, they encourage readers to systematically consider the influence of public policies and social programs on lives, aging and the life course. Wilmoth and London hope that this volume will meet two main goals: to foster an appreciation of how interrelated public policy influences condition the life course; and to demonstrate how the life-course perspective and cumulative inequality theory can serve as tools to re-shape contemporary public policy debates. Ultimately, they are advocating for social programs that respond to the needs of individuals across the life course.

In the foreword, authored by Gerald B. Cramer Faculty Scholar in Aging Studies Jennifer Karas Montez, and three distinct chapters, five Maxwell professors, and one sociology Ph.D. student contribute to a discussion of how public polices affect everyone through intended and unintended consequences over the short- and long-term. Their specific contributions to this book include an examination of the historical development of U.S. public policies and their relation to the life course, the variable influences of public policies related to food and nutrition across the life course, and how public policies—or the lack thereof—shape grandparental care work.

In Chapter 1, “An Introduction to Life-Course Perspectives on Public Policies,” Wilmoth and London review the history of U.S. public policy development, starting with policies and associated programs that emerged out of President Theodore Roosevelt’s New Deal. That early wave of policy and program development was bolstered by President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty.” According to Wilmoth and London, policies can generate or ameliorate inequalities in the United States through cumulative processes that play out differently on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, immigrant status, ability and sexual orientation. 

In Chapter 6, “U.S. Food and Nutrition Policy Across the Life Course,” Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs Collen M. Heflin evaluates the development of U.S. food and nutrition policy. Heflin argues that food insecurity across the life course is often linked to other forms of precarity. She also examines the temporary nature of food assistance programs in relation to age-related life-course transitions. Heflin maintains the gaps in coverage at critical periods of children’s development have long-term implications for health and well-being.

In Chapter 10, “How Social Policies Affect Grandparent Care Work,” University Professor of Sociology Madonna Harrington Meyer and sociology Ph.D. student Amra Kandic examine the nexus of public policies and care work by grandparents. In the United States, grandparents provide a lot more care than their counterparts in other countries, and there is great deal of variation in grandparental care work by race, class and gender. Harrington Meyer and Kandic use data from in-depth interviews with grandparents to illustrate how the lack of federal policies and the use of poverty-based criteria to determine access to social welfare programs shape demands for, and experiences of, their care work.

Publisher's Summary

There is a complex set of public policies and associated programs that constitute the social safety net in the United States. In "Life-Course Implications of U.S. Public Policies," the authors encourage others to systematically consider the influence of policies and programs on lives, aging, and the life course, and how the consequences might vary by gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, and social class.

The volume aims to foster an appreciation of how policy influences connect and condition the life course. Chapters examine issues relating to health, housing, food security, crime, employment, and care work, amongst other issues, and demonstrate how the principles of the life-course perspective and cumulative inequality theory can be used to inform contemporary public policy debates.

"Life-Course Implications of U.S. Public Policies" will be a great resource for students of gerontology, sociology, demography, social work, public health and public policy, as well as policy makers, researchers in think tanks, and advocates, who are concerned with age-based policy.