Karl Pillemer

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Karl Pillemer
Born (1954-10-15) October 15, 1954 (age 64)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materBoston University
Brandeis University
Known forResearch in gerontology, founder of The Legacy Project
Spouse(s)Clare McMillan
Scientific career
FieldsSociology, gerontology
InstitutionsUniversity of New Hampshire, Cornell University

Karl Andrew Pillemer (born October 15, 1954) is an American sociologist and gerontologist who is the Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development at Cornell University,[1] director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research,[2] and Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. His research focuses on intergenerational relations in later life, long-term care for frail and disabled older persons, and social engagement and involvement of older persons. Pillemer is the founder of the Cornell Legacy Project,[3] which since 2004 has collected accounts of the life wisdom of over 2,000 older Americans.

Early life[edit]

Pillemer was born on October 15, 1954, to Jean Burrell Pillemer and Louis Pillemer,[4] an early pioneer in the field of immunology at Case Western Reserve University. After the death of his father when Pillemer was three years old, his grandmother moved in with the family; Pillemer attributes his close relationship with her as a main source of his eventual career in gerontology.


Pillemer received his B.A. from Boston University in 1977[5] and received his M.A. from Brandeis University in 1980, followed by his Ph.D. from there in 1985. In his Ph.D. dissertation work he collaborated with Rosalie S. Wolf in one of the earliest[6][7] large-scale studies of programs to prevent and treat elder abuse and neglect.[8] He moved to the University of New Hampshire in 1985, where he trained with Murray A. Straus and David Finkelhor, directing a large-scale population survey that established initial prevalence rates for the abuse and neglect of older persons.[9][10] During this time, he carried out a prevalence survey of elder abuse in nursing homes that showed the high extent of this problem.[11][12] Pillemer also began his career-long program of research on improving care in nursing homes, authoring five books that have been used in the nursing home industry.[13] Pillemer moved to Cornell University in 1990, where he is a full professor. Over the past 25 years at Cornell, he has conducted empirical research and intervention studies in the area of intergenerational relations. A theoretical and empirical focus of his work has been reviving the concept of ambivalence and applying it to parent-child relations in later life.[14]

The Legacy Project[edit]

In 2004, Pillemer described becoming discouraged with the degree to which his research focused exclusively on "the problems of older people and older people as problems."[15] Influenced by concerns about growing ageism and age segregation in contemporary society, he began a series of studies designed to tap the practical life wisdom of older people.[16] Over the ensuing decade, he conducted surveys and in-depth interview studies of over 2,000 older Americans, systematically collecting their advice for living in a number of domains, including career, marriage, child-rearing, avoiding regrets, and aging well.[17] These studies form the largest data set ever assembled of the advice of older people,[18] and included a survey of the advice for love and marriage of 700 long-married elders.[19] The research resulted in two popular books: 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans and 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage. Based on this research, Pillemer has worked internationally to promote the role of older people as sources of practical advice and encouraged both individuals and organizations to incorporate elder wisdom into daily life. The Legacy Project has been featured in multiple media.[20][21][22][23][24]

Personal life[edit]

Pillemer is married to Clare McMillan. They have two children, film producer Hannah Pillemer[25] (1981) and neuropsychologist Sarah Pillemer[26] (1987), and two grandchildren, Clare and Thomas (2016).


  • Pillemer, Karl (2011). 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. New York: Penguin/Hudson Street Press. (Translated editions: Germany, Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, Vietnam, Romania).
  • Pillemer, Karl (2015). 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage. Penguin/Hudson Street Press.
  • Pillemer, Karl, and Kurt Luescher (Eds.) (2004). Intergenerational Ambivalences: New Perspectives on Parent-Child Relations in Later Life. Stamford, CT: Elsevier/JAI Press. Volume 4 in the series Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research.
  • Pillemer, Karl, Phyllis Moen, Elaine Wethington, Nina Glasgow (Eds.) (2000). Social Integration in the Second Half of Life. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Wolf, Rosalie S., and Karl Pillemer (1989). Helping Elderly Victims: The Reality of Elder Abuse. New York: Columbia University Press.


  1. ^ "Karl Pillemer". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  2. ^ "BCTR director Karl Pillemer on translational research". Cornell.edu. 2014.
  3. ^ "The Legacy Project". The Legacy Project. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  4. ^ Ratnoff, William Davis (2015-01-07). "A War with the Molecules: Louis Pillemer and the History of Properdin". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 23 (4): 638–657. doi:10.1353/pbm.1980.0036. ISSN 1529-8795.
  5. ^ "Karl Pillemer, Professor of Gerontology in Medicine". VIVO, Weill Cornell Medical College. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  6. ^ 1. Introduction | Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America | The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/10406.
  7. ^ Pillemer, Karl; Wolf, Rosalie S. (1986-09-30). Elder Abuse: Conflict in the Family. Dover, Mass.: Praeger. ISBN 9780865691346.
  8. ^ Wolf, Rosalie S.; Pillemer, Karl A. "Helping Elderly Victims: The Reality of Elder Abuse (Columbia Studies of Social Gerontology and Aging): 9780231064842". www.amazon.com. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  9. ^ Cooper, Claudia; Selwood, Amber; Livingston, Gill (2008-03-01). "The prevalence of elder abuse and neglect: a systematic review". Age and Ageing. 37 (2): 151–160. doi:10.1093/ageing/afm194. ISSN 0002-0729. PMID 18349012.
  10. ^ Pillemer, Karl; Finkelhor, David (1988-02-01). "The Prevalence of Elder Abuse: A Random Sample Survey". The Gerontologist. 28 (1): 51–57. doi:10.1093/geront/28.1.51. ISSN 0016-9013. PMID 3342992.
  11. ^ Kamavarapu, Y. S.; Ferriter, Michael; Morton, S.; Völlm, B. (2017-02-01). "Institutional abuse – Characteristics of victims, perpetrators and organisations: A systematic review". European Psychiatry. 40: 45–54. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2016.07.002.
  12. ^ Pillemer, Karl; Moore, David W. (1989-06-01). "Abuse of Patients in Nursing Homes: Findings from a Survey of Staff". The Gerontologist. 29 (3): 314–320. doi:10.1093/geront/29.3.314. ISSN 0016-9013. PMID 2788108.
  13. ^ "Solving the Frontline Crisis in Long-Term Care: A Practical Guide to Finding and Keeping Quality Nursing Assistants: 9780965362900: Medicine & Health Science Books @ Amazon.com". www.amazon.com. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  14. ^ Luescher, Kurt; Pillemer, Karl (1998-01-01). "Intergenerational Ambivalence: A New Approach to the Study of Parent-Child Relations in Later Life". Journal of Marriage and Family. 60 (2): 413–425. doi:10.2307/353858. JSTOR 353858.
  15. ^ "Why you should really start talking to old people more". 2016-03-20. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  16. ^ Brody, Jane E. (2012-01-09). "Elderly 'Experts' Share Life Advice in Cornell Project". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  17. ^ "Lessons for living: The Legacy Project collects and disseminates elder wisdom". connection.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
  18. ^ Bearon, Luci (2014-03-07). "Gerontologists and the Real People We Study: Honoring the Lived Experience and Expertise of Elders". The Gerontologist: gnu007. doi:10.1093/geront/gnu007. ISSN 0016-9013.
  19. ^ Antoniades, Christina Breda (2016-02-09). "The secret to a long-lasting marriage". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  20. ^ "New Book Illustrates Life Lessons From an Older Generation". PBS Newshour. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  21. ^ Brody, Jane E. "Advice From Life's Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  22. ^ "Secrets to a successful marriage from 700 retirees". CBS News. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  23. ^ Hellmich, Nanci. "Hundreds of retirees share secrets to a happy marriage". USA TODAY. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  24. ^ Barker, Eric. "Important Life Lessons: What's The Most Important Life Lesson Older People Feel You Must Know?". TIME. Time Inc. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  25. ^ "Hannah Pillemer". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  26. ^ Pillemer, Sarah; Holtzer, Roee; Blumen, Helena M. (2016-04-12). "Functional connectivity associated with social networks in older adults: A resting-state fMRI study". Social Neuroscience. 0 (0): 1–11. doi:10.1080/17470919.2016.1176599. ISSN 1747-0919. PMID 27072369.