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Vern Bengtson - USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Los Angeles, CA, US

Vern Bengtson Vern Bengtson

University Professor Emeritus Research Professor of Social Work Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging | USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work


Gerontology expert, focusing on the sociology of aging







Vern Bengston is a faculty research associate with the School of Social Work's Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging. Prior to this he held the AARP/University Chair in Gerontology at USC. He is past president of the Gerontological Society of America and a MERIT awardee from the National Institutes of Health.

Bengtson has published 16 books and 260 research papers on gerontology, theories of aging, sociology of aging and family sociology. He has been elected to various offices in the American Sociological Association and the Gerontological Society of America and has twice been granted MERIT awards for research from the National Institute on Aging. Early in his career Bengtson started the Longitudinal Study of Generations, a multi-disciplinary investigation of families, aging and social change, and it has received continuous NIH funding over eight waves of data collection from families the study has followed since 1970. Bengtson’s 17th book, based on these data, is Families and Faith: Generations and the Transmission of Religion, published by Oxford University Press.

For his research and professional contributions Bengtson has received a number of honors and awards, including the Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Aging and the Life Course (1995); the Robert W. Kleemeier Award from the Gerontological Society of America (1996); the Ernest W. Burgess Distinguished Career Award from the National Council on Family Relations (1998); and the Reuben Hill Award from the National Council of Family Relations (1980 and 1986). He has been elected fellow of three professional societies in three academic disciplines: the American Psychological Association, the Gerontological Society of America and the National Council of Family Relations.

At USC Bengtson has had research and training grants totaling $24 million, most from the National Institutes of Health. In addition he has received three major awards for teaching from the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as well as a national honor, the Distinguished Mentor Award from the Gerontological Society of America. Bengtson had a hand in helping establish USC's Andrus Gerontology Center and Davis School of Gerontology.

Education (2)

University of Chicago: PhD, Human Development and Social Psychology 1967

University of Chicago: MA, Human Development and Psychology 1965

Areas of Expertise (6)

Gerontology Theories of Aging Sociology of Aging Familial Sociology Religion Spirituality

Industry Expertise (8)

Mental Health Care Health Care - Services Health Care - Facilities Education/Learning Research Health and Wellness Health Care - Providers Writing and Editing

Accomplishments (3)

Distinguished Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award, University of Southern California (professional)


Distinguished Mentor Award, Gerontological Society of America (professional)


The Robert W. Kleemeier Award, Gerontological Society of America (professional)



Media Appearances (3)

​Searching for our roots

CBS News  tv


USC professor Vern Bengtson says we all have a built-in desire to know where, and whom, we come from. "We want to find out about the highs and the lows, the triumphs, the tribulations of people whose genes we carry," Bengtson said. "I have my grandfather's hairline. I'm not terribly proud of it. I think it's a bit unfortunate. But it's part of me. It's part of my genes. It's part of my inheritance."

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From Grandmother to Granddaughter, Passing Along Religious Traditions

The Wall Street Journal  print


Grandparents are playing a bigger role in transmitting religious traditions across generations, especially when their own children are absent, unable or uninterested in religion, says Vern Bengtson, a professor emeritus of gerontology and sociology at the University of Southern California. He and colleagues tracked more than 350 families over almost four decades and published their findings in “Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations.”

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Book Explores Ways Faith Is Kept, or Lost, Over Generations

New York Times  print


In “Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations” (Oxford; $29.95), written with two colleagues, Professor Bengtson argues that families do a pretty good job of passing religious faith to their children. More interesting, for those who fret about children leaving the fold — that is, clergy members and parents everywhere — Professor Bengtson has theories about why some children keep the faith while others leave.

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Articles & Publications (1)

Applying Within-Family Differences Approaches to Enhance Understanding of the Complexity of Intergenerational Relations Journals of Gerontology

J Jill Suitor, Megan Gilligan, Karl Pillemer, Karen L Fingerman, Kyungmin Kim, Merril Silverstein, Vern L Bengtson


The role of family relationships in the lives of older adults has received substantial attention in recent decades. Scholars have increasingly looked beyond simple models of family relations to approaches that recognize the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of these ties. One of the most exciting conceptual and methodological developments is the application of within-family differences approaches. In this paper, we focus on the ways in which such within-family approaches can extend the understanding of patterns and consequences of intergenerational ties in adulthood.

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