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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

When Aging Out Means “Going Without”

UM Sociologist John Green is researching elders and rural poverty with $1.6M grant from the National Institutes of Health

John Green, Photo by Kevin Bain/University Communications Photography.

John Green, Photo by Kevin Bain


The United States is largely a citified nation. More than 81 percent of the U.S. population resides in urban areas, depleting the population and, therefore, the resources of rural America. As a result, the people in one-stoplight towns and small-scale cities—for example, the city of Water Valley, MS, population: 3,600—are disproportionately sick and poor as they grow old. Lacking critical resources like adequate healthcare, they are dying younger than people their age living in American cities.

The struggles of rural Americans have remained largely invisible to the rest of the country, but John Green—a professor in the Department of
Sociology and Anthropology
and director of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Population Studies (CPS)—aims to change that.

He and a team of colleagues at Pennsylvania State University, Syracuse University, and the University of Colorado at Boulder have been awarded a new five-year $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging (NIA).  These funds will build a national, interdisciplinary network of researchers who will 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, healthcare, 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.”

Green’s base, the Center for Population Studies, was created to educate, conduct research and engage in public outreach concerning population issues, such as rural, elderly Americans.

“This generous grant from NIH is a remarkable achievement for the University of Mississippi,” said Jeffrey T. Jackson, chair and professor 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 healthcare and clean water. He cares about communities and this grant will help him continue his mission.”

Much of Green’s public outreach has already improved the lives of Mississippians through the CPS’s Society and Health Research Initiative. The Initiative’s projects focus on essential issues, such as healthcare, clean water, and hunger. He is deeply 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 Number R24AG065159, administered through Pennsylvania State University.