AARP Professor of Gerontology
University of Southern California
Eileen Crimmins completed her B.S. in Mathematics at Chestnut Hill College in 1968 and her Ph.D. in Demography at the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. After holding positions in population sciences and sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she joined the faculty at the University of Southern California in 1982 where she has been a chaired professor since 1997. She is the AARP Professor in Gerontology and directs the USC/UCLA Center on Biodemography and Population Health in collaboration with Teresa Seeman.
Crimmins is an elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has served in an editorial capacity at many journals including Biodemography and Social Biology, Demography, Journal of Gerontology and the Journal of Health and Aging. She was elected vice-president of the Population Association of America and council member of IUSSP and has served on numerous professional boards including the Committee on Population at the National Academy of Sciences and the monitoring committees of the Health and Retirement Survey and the National Disability Survey.
An internationally recognized expert on aging, Crimmins’ research highlights the connections between socioeconomic status and health, broadly defined. She began her career examining changes in infant mortality in New York, broadening out to the entire United States and then to mortality across the life course. Distinguishing mortality by cause of death, the work provides an early example of how understanding biological mechanisms sheds important light on interpreting population health processes. Her research further expanded to explore fertility, family and socio-economic status, including relationships with work and income and the role of women in society. In an inter-disciplinary collaboration with Dick Easterlin, she developed the “synthesis framework” which had a major impact on the field by placing lifetime fertility in a general equilibrium framework that takes into account the demand for children, supply of children and the costs of contraception.
One of the earliest researchers to combine indicators of disability, disease and mortality to examine trends and differentials in healthy life expectancy, her work has had a wide-ranging impact on thinking about both health and health policy. Conceptualizing health, broadly to include life expectancy, disability and biological markers of health risks, she has clarified how population health can deteriorate even as life expectancy increases and has substantively influenced a broad swathe of research that seeks to better understand how individual behaviors, health care and technological innovation affect the health and well-being of individuals at all ages. Her work on the long-lasting impact of early life health experiences on later life health has underscored the importance of examining health across the entire life course. Seminal work with Tuck Finch describes the scarring impact of exposure to inflammation in early life and explains how inflammatory processes likely persist from early age into adult life. She has been a major player in studies of the inter-relationships between health and socio-economic status. She has pointed out how disadvantaged populations exhibit earlier signs of multiple domains of biological aging and this translates into shorter lives and fewer healthy years. Her work reaches across the entire globe including not only North America but also Asia, Latin America and Europe. Her NAS volume with Sam Preston and Barney Cohen on International Differences in Mortality at Older Ages is a path-breaking study that has set the stage for investigation of health and mortality for years to come.
Crimmins has played a pioneering role in the field of biodemography and she has been pivotal in bridging the gulf between the biological and population sciences. By integrating insights from biology to provide a better understanding of the evolution of health and well-being over the life course in her own work, she has had a profound and enduring influence on both the field of population health and the population sciences. An exceptional mentor and outstanding collaborator, she has inspired generations of investigators trained in sociology, demography, psychology, economics, gerontology, biology, epidemiology and medicine who aspire to the level rigor, creativity and importance in inter-disciplinary research that is the hallmark of her work. A tireless builder of intellectual communities and public goods, her leadership with Teresa Seeman of network activities around the measurement and interpretation of biological risk has fundamentally changed the face of biodemography. Groundbreaker and leader extraordinaire, she has played a key role in assuring that biodemography will be a central pillar of population research in decades to come.
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Kathleen Mullan Harris