The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Social Work Faculty's Knowledge of Aging: Results From a National Sample

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jill Chonody, PhD, Lecturer, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Donna Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY

The need for gerontological social workers has been well-documented, and one potential barrier to increasing student competency is that few social work programs have faculty with a substantive interest in the area of aging (Olson, 2007; Gellis et al., 2003). This shortage in the academy could have numerous consequences, including inadequate training of future practitioners and a failure to recruit students into the field. Research should explore what types of curriculum changes could improve students’ capabilities to work with older adults (Gellis et al., 2003), which implies that social work faculty are critical to this process of change. However, it has been raised that the majority of social work faculty do not have much knowledge, skill, or expertise in social work with older people (Rosen et al., 2002). Despite recommendations from past researchers (Tan et al., 2001), to these authors’ knowledge, no studies to date have explored social work faculty knowledge about aging and older adults. Instead, most studies regarding knowledge of aging have focused on social work students (Olson, 2007). The purpose of this study was to fill that gap.


This cross-sectional study utilized a self-administered online survey. Data were collected during the 2011-2012 academic year. Systematic random sampling was used to select 40% of CSWE-accredited or in-candidacy schools within the United States schools. A total of 3,369 emails were sent to faculty and 609 participated (RR = 18.1%).

The Knowledge of Aging Social Work Quiz (KASW; Palmore, 1998) was utilized along with a demographic questionnaire. The KASW assesses social workers’ knowledge of aging in biological, psychological, and social domains. The entire scale is summed to create a global score or each subscale is summed to create a domain score. Higher scores indicate a greater degree of knowledge.


The mean age of this sample was 52.70 years, and they were predominately female and White. In terms of the overall sample’s knowledge of aging, the mean score for correct answers was 2.84 (out of 10) for the Social KASW, 4.41 (out of 10) for the Psychological KASW, 4.02 (out of 5) for the Biological KASW, and 11.35 (out of 25) for the total KASW.  

An OLS regression revealed that four variables (policy interest, educational level, confidence in covering aging content, and regularly teaching an aging course) were significant predictors of aging knowledge and accounted for 24.5% of the variance. All of the variables had a small effect size.


The results of this study provide information on the content areas where faculty exhibited the most knowledgeable about aging, and what factors contribute to their knowledge base. The domain with the lowest level of knowledge was in the social domain, which largely focuses on issues such as isolation, poverty rates, social security, health and economic status of older adults. Response patterns will be presented in depth and comparisons to past studies will be made. Suggestions for infusion of gerontological information into the social work curriculum will be explored.