Aging Well by George E. Vaillant, MD

Aging Well is a report on the Grant Study, which consists of two samples of white American males.  One is a group of 237 physically and mentally healthy Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939-1944.  The second sample is a group of 332 disadvantaged, non-delinquent inner-city youths who grew up in Boston between 1940 and 1945.

Members of the sample have been evaluated and/or interviewed every two years since then.  Longitudinal research (the study of the same individuals over a period of time) allows for “telling a life story” as it actually happened, rather than how it might be recalled.  This enhances our ability to look more squarely at how things turn out rather than rely upon recollection and storytelling.

Dr. Vailant is an excellent and entertaining writer which makes his discussion of research very interesting. Although they are not “perfect” studies, largely because of the limited sample, there has been very little longitudinal research that has been done on the entire adult lifespan. It contributes greatly to what we know without negating the need to know more.  A very diverse readership has found these books to be insightful and informative.

Aging Well is a book about these men, now in their 70’s (the inner-city sample) and 80’s (the Harvard sample).  Using a very broad range of data (including physical and mental health, marital quality, career enjoyment, and retirement experience), Dr. Vailant pursues the goal of identifying factors that predict healthy aging — as well as what doesn’t.  It contains a lot of valuable information about what can be done to improve the quality of life — now and in the future.  One (of several) notable features of this book is how he describes the progression of patterns that predict life outcomes.  It is a very coherent, well-written and, at times, surprising book.

Dr. Valiant’s earlier book (which is also recommended), Adaptation To Life, is a report on the Harvard group when they were in their 50’s.

Amazon Link to Aging Well