Rocio Calvo

Rocío Calvo, PhD

Associate Professor
Director, Latinx Leadership Initiative (LLI)
Phone: 617-552-0651

Rocío Calvo is Associate Professor of Global Practice at the Boston College School of Social Work. She is also the Founding Director of the Latinx Leadership Initiative (LLI), and co-leads the Social Work Grand Challenge Initiative, “Achieve Equal Opportunity for All” of the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare. Her work broadly focuses on the role of public services in the integration of immigrants and their children. She also studies how socioeconomic and cultural factors optimize or jeopardize the life satisfaction of immigrants throughout their immigration careers.

Dr. Calvo’s interests and work related to the Center on Aging & Work’s mission has focused primarily on challenging the lack of subjective and cultural components in dominant models of successful aging. Unlike common indicators of later life success, such as wealth or functional ability, happiness allows people to rate their satisfaction with life according to their own standards or what is important to them. As the aging population diversifies, she argues, models of successful aging based on culturally-dominant indicators of what constitutes success are bound to fail. In an analysis of the Health and Retirement Study data, Dr. Calvo and colleagues found that older Hispanics—and particularly foreign-born Hispanics—were more satisfied with their lives than any other group of older adults in the United States. 

In an analysis of the American Time Use Survey, Dr. Calvo and her colleagues found that Hispanics tend to spend less time than non- Hispanics in activities traditionally related to productive aging, such as volunteering. However, much to their surprise, Hispanics derive more happiness and meaning than other older adults from ordinary activities such as cooking and religious participation, especially when friends and family are involved.

Dr. Calvo argues that we should care about the happiness of older adults. For starters because higher levels of happiness (as measured by individual’s ratings of their satisfaction with life according to what is important to them) have been associated with greater functional capacity and better cognitive abilities, as well as with living longer and healthier lives. As such, happiness can be used as a complementary—and perhaps more culturally responsive?—indicator of “successful aging". But also because focusing attention on outcome variables such as happiness that do not pre-impose a specific set of factors thought to comprise a fulfilling life, can open up the possibility for identifying non-culturally-dominant indicators of what constitutes meaningful or productive engagement (e.g., informal activities that benefit the family system). Rather than one-size-fits-all model, interventions tailored to what people consider important may have better odds of increasing the quality of life of all seniors.