adult study

Adult Development Research

Study of Adult Development 

The Study of Adult Development is the longest longitudinal study of adult life ever conducted. For 68 years, two groups of men have been studied from adolescence into late life to identify the predictors of healthy aging. This study has allowed us to examine the psychological traits, social factors, and biological processes that characterize adolescents and forty-year-olds who evolve into vigorous and engaged octogenarians.

The study has created an unprecedented database of life histories with which to view the dynamic character of the aging process. A map of Boston neighborhoods in which Glueck Study men grew up.

Our Participants
The two groups that make up the Study are very different.

  • The Harvard cohort, known as the "Grant Study," is a group of 268 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1939-1944.
  • The Inner-City cohort, known as the "Glueck Study," is a group of 456 men who grew up in the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston, originally selected for a study by Harvard Law School professor Sheldon Glueck between 1940 and 1945.

Learning About Our Participants

  • Questionnaires: Every 2 years, both the Grant and Glueck men complete questionnaires asking about their physical and mental health, marital quality, career or retirement enjoyment, and many other aspects of their lives.
  • Health Information: Every five years, health information is collected from the men and their physicians to assess their physical health.
  • Interviews: Many of the men from both groups have been interviewed at different intervals over the years to document more in-depth information about their relationships, their careers, and their adjustment to aging.

Our Research Foci

  • What predicts healthy aging? By observing the adult lives of these two diverse samples, we have been able to identify familial, childhood, and psychological variables (e.g. defense mechanisms) that predict happy and healthy adjustments to life, marriage and successful aging. We have also identified variables that are linked with poor physical or mental health, unhappy marriages, and poor adjustment to retirement later in life.
  • Marriage is a central focus of the current phase of the study. Because relationships in late life withstand some of the greatest stresses of the life cycle, such as illness and declining physical functioning, the factors that promote stable and satisfying relationships later in life are key to our understanding of positive aging.
  • Social Neuroscience. We are now beginning to take the Study in a direction that will multiply and expand the value of this resource for future scientists and scholars. By adding genetic information, sensitive tests of intellectual functioning, neuroimaging of brain structure and function, and ultimately brain autopsy to nearly 70 years of behavioral data, we will create an unprecedented (and irreplaceable) resource for the study of social neuroscience -- links between brain and behavior in human aging. The combination will allow investigators from diverse disciplines to shed light on some of the most fundamental questions about the aging process.

Current Projects

W.T. Grant Foundation Archiving Project

Thanks to a grant from the W. T. Grant Foundation, the Study of Adult Development has undertaken a large and important archiving project, which began in 2010. As you may know, Mr. W. T. Grant was the first person to support the Grant Study research project at Harvard University Health Services in 1938 with a $60,000 grant. Here we are—75 years later—again the grateful recipients of the W. T. Grant Foundation’s generosity.

With the rich data collected from two important longitudinal studies of human development: The Grant Study (Harvard men) and The Glueck Study (Inner City men) the Study determined it was crucial to convert the collected data set into an electronic format available to Study staff, and eventually to researchers and scholars of human development.

With the help of college interns seeking degrees in archiving, publishing, or library science, and employing the services of DataBank IMX, a company specializing in document imaging, we have successfully completed the digital conversion of the entire Grant Study records. We are currently working on the Glueck Study archiving project.

Original Study records, which date back to 1939, were, of course, handwritten! Later documents were hand-typed until computers became available. Technology has now evolved to enable the Study staff to search, manage, and store these irreplaceable records on a secure server at MGH, which our staff can easily access from their secure computers in our lab.

This priceless study of lives will be preserved well into the future.



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