Cost, Coverage and More Drive Hearing Aid Inequality

Elderly woman in a hospital room being fitted with a hearing aid by a young woman.

Photo credit: Rawpixel/Getty Images

Hearing loss seems like one of the great equalizers of old age, striking people of all kinds as their ears gradually lose the ability to pick out sounds or hear certain pitches. But a new national study reveals major gaps in whether Americans over age 55 get help for their hearing loss – gaps that vary greatly with age, race, education and income.

In all, just over a third of older adults who say they have hearing loss are using a hearing aid to correct it, the study finds. But those who are non-Hispanic white, college-educated or have incomes in the top 25 percent were about twice as likely as those of other races, education levels or income ranges to have a hearing aid.

The cost of hearing aids is most to blame, say the researchers from the University of Michigan who published the study in The Gerontologist, and presented it this week at the annual research meeting of AcademyHealth, professional society for healthcare researchers.

They can cost thousands of dollars out of a patient’s pocket, since most health insurance programs, including Medicare, don’t cover them.

In fact, the study finds that the only factor that leveled the playing field for hearing aid use was having insurance through the Veterans Administration, which covers hearing aids in many cases. Hearing-impaired veterans ages 55 to 64 were more than twice as likely as their non-veteran peers to use a hearing aid, even after the researchers corrected for other differences. The gap between veterans and non-veterans was also significant for those over age 65.

But the detailed interviews conducted for the study also show that personal concerns about hearing aid use, and lack of engagement with health providers, play a role.

“Hearing aids are not easy for many to obtain due to their costs,” says Michael McKee, M.D., M.P.H., the U-M family medicine physician and assistant professor who led the analysis. “However, there are a number of additional issues that place at-risk groups at an even larger disadvantage to achieving good hearing health. Many of these issues are beyond the financial aspects, including racial/ethnicity and sociocultural elements, for instance stigma and vanity.”

National survey and local interviews

McKee, who uses a cochlear implant to overcome his own hearing loss, worked on the study with Helen Levy, Ph.D., a health economist and professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research, and other colleagues. The authors are members of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

They used survey data from the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study, which is based on interviews conducted by ISR with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

The analysis included data from more than 35,500 people nationwide over age 55 who said they had hearing loss. In addition, McKee and colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 21 other older adults with hearing loss in the communities surrounding the University.

The authors conclude that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should consider covering hearing aids for Medicare participants, and those in Medicaid plans for lower-income adults of any age. Some state Medicaid plans do cover hearing aids but it is not required.

“Many people may not realize that Medicare does not cover hearing aids,” says Levy. “But it doesn’t, so cost can be a significant obstacle preventing older adults with hearing loss from getting the help that they need.”

More Findings from the Study

  • The percentage of older adults with hearing loss who used a hearing aid rose with age, from about 15 percent of those in their late 50s to more than 57 percent of those in their late 80s.
  • Forty percent of non-Hispanic white adults with hearing loss used a hearing aid, compared with 18.4 percent of non-Hispanic Black and 21.1 percent of Hispanic adults with hearing loss.
  • Nearly 46 percent of hearing-impaired older adults who had gone to college reporting that they used a hearing aid, compared with just under 29 percent of those who hadn’t graduated from high school.
  • Nearly half of those with incomes in the top 25 percent wore a hearing aid, compared with about one-quarter of those in the bottom 25 percent.
  • There were no significant differences in hearing aid use based on the size of the community where the person lived, nor their level of health literacy as measured on a standard test.
  • Interviews showed that cost, lack of insurance coverage (or knowledge about insurance coverage), vanity and stigma were common reasons for not using hearing aids. Participants also cited a lack of attention to hearing loss by their primary care provider, or worries about finding an audiologist they could trust.
  • Many interview participants who used a hearing aid mentioned efforts that hearing-related professionals made to connect them to discounts and insurance programs.

More about Hearing Loss

Estimates of hearing loss incidence place it at 29 percent of people in their 50s, 45 percent of those in their 60s, 68 percent of those in their 70s and 89 percent of those in their 80s.
Previous studies have shown that untreated hearing loss reduces older adults’ ability to carry out everyday tasks, reduces their quality of life, and is linked to social isolation, lower income, reduced cognitive function and poorer physical and psychological health.

A recent study led by McKee’s colleague Elham Mahmoudi, M.D., found that having a hearing aid was associated with a lower chance of being hospitalized or visiting an emergency room in the past year. That study focused on individuals over age 65 who had severe hearing loss, and used data from a federal database.
McKee leads the Health Info Lab, which is carrying out research on health information use and literacy among deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.


Kara Gavin,

Consumers lament: Where have all the discounts gone?

Surveys of Consumers Logo

ANN ARBOR—Consumer sentiment slipped by less than an index-point from last month, remaining at the same favorable levels for the past 18 months, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

Since President Trump’s election, the Sentiment Index has meandered in a tight eight-point range from 93.4 to 101.4, with the small month-to-month variations indicating no emerging trend, said U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys.

Consumers, he said, have remained focused on expected gains in jobs and incomes as well as anticipated increases in interest rates and inflation during the year ahead.

References to low prices for household durables, vehicles and homes fell to decade lows. Coupled with higher interest rates, it is likely that the pace of growth in personal consumption will average about 2.6 percent during the year ahead, he said.

“As past expansions have shown, rising interest rates do not suppress spending gains as long as they are accompanied by more substantial increases in consumer incomes,” Curtin said. “The May survey, however, found that consumers anticipated smaller income gains than a month or year ago, even though they anticipate a continued tight labor market.

“Although consumers anticipated a slightly higher year-ahead inflation rate, they expected the uptick to be temporary and for the inflation rate to fall back in the years ahead. While the vast majority of consumers anticipate repeated rate hikes in the year ahead, those increases must be accompanied by stronger income growth to ensure a robust expansion.”

Income Gains Remain Subdued

The long-awaited rise in wages was still absent in the May survey, as consumers anticipated gains in household incomes of just 1.6 percent, down from last month’s 2.2 percent and last year’s 2 percent. Those under age 45 anticipated income gains of 3.5 percent and those with incomes in the top third expected income gains of 3.2 percent; all other subgroups were under 2 percent.

The majority of consumers (51 percent) expected the unemployment rate to stabilize at about its current 18-year low, with equal proportions of consumers expecting some minor increases or minor declines in the year ahead (24 percent).

Low Prices Disappear

Favorable views of buying conditions fell slightly for household durables, vehicles and homes. Although the falloff still left buying plans at generally favorable levels, the widespread declines were due to how consumers assessed current market prices.

Net price references were the least favorable for household durables since just prior to the Great Recession, for vehicles since 1997, and for homes since 2006—although higher home prices brightened prospects for selling homes. Rather than prices or interest rates, consumers have increasingly cited greater certainty about their future jobs and income as the underlying reason for advancing their purchases.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Consumer Sentiment Index was 98.0 in the May 2018 survey, barely below the 98.8 in April and just above the 97.1 in last May’s survey. The Current Conditions Index fell to 111.8 in May, down from 114.9 in April, and nearly identical to last May’s 111.7. The Expectations Index was 89.1 in May, up from 88.4 in April and last year’s 87.7.

About the Surveys

The Surveys of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95-percent level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Index the minimum is 6 points.


Catherine Allen-West, 734-647-9069,
Bernie DeGroat, 734-647-1847,

Redistribution of wealth could boost consumption rate

ANN ARBOR—Want to boost the consumption rate in the United States? Transfer wealth from the top 20 percent of earners to the bottom 80 percent, according to a University of Michigan study.

The study is the first to consider the interplay between consumption, income inequality and wealth inequality, and found that such a transfer could boost the total consumption rate by about 3 or 4 percent.

Previously, studies had considered the effect of income on consumption, which is the measure of the goods and services you buy daily, including what you pay for your car or bus pass, groceries, clothing and health care. But it’s important to also take into account wealth, which are the savings and other assets a person might own and resources that person might draw on if he or she falls upon hard times.

“In economics, there’s this theory that people tend to smooth their consumption,” said U-M researcher and study author David Johnson. “Even if your income goes up or down, you’re going to spend at a certain rate, saving for a rainy day, and if that rainy day comes, use those funds. … The goal of our paper is to simulate how you respond to your income going up or going down.”

What Johnson and colleagues found is that less wealthy people had a higher marginal propensity to consume, while wealthier people had a lower consumption rate.

Wealthier people spent more money as a whole, but had a lower rate of consumption: everyday requirements such as groceries take up a smaller percentage of their budgets. Also, they have deeper pockets to dip into if they have an unexpected bill to pay, which made them less reactive to changes in their income.

Less wealthy people had higher consumption rates, and they were less able to keep a stable consumption rate if their incomes changed, according to the researchers. Hurdles such as a broken-down car or health emergency aren’t as easy to pay because they don’t have the funds in savings, or have more difficulty applying for credits or loans to pay for the emergency.

Examining only the effect of income on consumption doesn’t take into account, for example, a retiree whose income might be low, but who might be drawing on retirement savings.

The study uses data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has traced the financial lives of the same families for 50 years. The PSID is housed within the Survey Research Center at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

“In order to really evaluate the rate of consumption, you have to look at income, consumption and wealth together,” said Johnson, who is the director of the PSID. “The Panel Study of Income Dynamics is the only dataset that has all three.”

The researchers also calculated what would happen if some wealth was shifted from the top 20 percent of wealthy people to the bottom 80 percent. They found that total consumption would increase by 3 to 4 percent.

“A redistribution of wealth might lead to higher growth, and growth is good,” Johnson said. “You’re still taking away from somebody, but overall, it’s better.”

The study is published as a working paper online at The Washington Center for Equitable Growth.


David Johnson

Contact: Morgan Sherburne, 734-647-1844,

Medicaid expansion leaves more money in recipients’ pockets

ANN ARBOR—Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act reduced out-of-pocket medical expenses, allowing the poorest Americans to allocate their money for other life necessities, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Joelle Abramowitz, an economist with the U-M Institute for Social Research, examined the extent to which the expansion alleviated the burden of out-of-pocket costs of getting health insurance and then using it. These include costs such as monthly premiums, doctor’s visit copays and copays for medication, medical supplies and vision aids such as glasses or contacts.

The study found that those living in states that expanded Medicaid were less likely to pay premiums for their Medicare insurance. These residents also saw their out-of-pocket medical expenses such as copays decrease.

“I studied people who were near or below the poverty level, who could do a lot with that money,” said Abramowitz, an assistant research scientist with ISR’s Survey Research Center. “On the other hand, if this leads people to seek care they wouldn’t have sought before, they may end up spending more.”

The findings also pointed to another outcome: Medicaid expansions also led to workers dropping their employer-sponsored health insurance. Abramowitz surmises that this is because Medicaid coverage may be better and less costly.

“One view could be that it’s bad if people who could get private coverage to get coverage funded by taxpayers,” Abramowitz said. “But I think what this highlights is the potential that the coverage they were getting through employers may have been of lower quality such that they couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with getting care, and accordingly, couldn’t make use of the coverage.”

After the Medicaid expansions, individuals with family income below 100 percent of the federal poverty level living in states that expanded Medicaid were 2.5 to 5.3 percent less likely to pay any money out of pocket for health insurance premiums compared to those living in states that did not expand.

Individuals with family income between 100 and 138 percent of the poverty level were 6.2 to 10.6 percent less likely to pay any money out of pocket for health insurance premiums. Individuals with family income between 100 and 138 percent of the poverty level were also 11.5 to 18.7 percent less likely to pay any money out of pocket for medical care and supplies. The 2018 federal poverty level for a family of two is $16,460 and for a family of three is $20,780.

Abramowitz used data from the 2011-2016 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. This survey samples 100,000 households across the United States each year.

“If we think about, in the long run, the best way we as a country can increase our productivity and reach our potential, we need people to be healthy and seek care they need,” Abramowitz said.

“If someone is not able to use their insurance and access healthcare, especially if they’re paying for insurance but can’t afford to use it—that might mean they can’t go to work or school, and that does not help them or our society to be the best it can. This is one more challenge making it more difficult for those already living in tough circumstances.”

Joelle Abramowitz

Study: The Effect of ACA State Medicaid Expansions on Medical Out-of-Pocket Expenditures

Jobs, wages, higher after-tax pay keeps consumer confidence high

Surveys of Consumers Logo

ANN ARBOR—Consumer sentiment has remained at very favorable levels for more than a year. In the February survey, it was just below the October 2017 peak of 100.7, the highest level since 2004, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

Expected gains in incomes, jobs and after-tax pay dominated concerns about rising interest rates and volatile stock prices, said U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys.

Consumers anticipated that the unemployment rate would dip below 4 percent in 2018, he said. Only modest gains in wages were anticipated, and inflation expectations have remained unchanged during the past few months. Overall, the data signal an expected gain of 2.9 percent in real personal consumption expenditures during 2018.

“Modest hikes in interest rates will not cause postponement of discretionary purchases as long as wages and take-home pay continue to rise,” Curtin said. “Personal tax cuts are crucial to spur additional spending, but unlike prior cuts that had an immediate positive impact, this tax cut has not generated universal support.

“Partisanship has greatly influenced perceptions of the tax cut legislation. When asked to identify recent economic changes, net positive references to the tax cuts were made by 37 percent of Republicans and by 22 percent of Independents, but among Democrats, net negative references were made by 4 percent. The partisan division is likely to last even after the cuts add to take-home pay and boost spending.”

Tax reforms and job gains dominate

More consumers reported that they had recently heard favorable news about recent economic developments in February than at any other time since 1984. Two-thirds of consumers reported changes in either tax policies or employment gains.

In the past two months, more consumers spontaneously mentioned favorable change in economic policies than has been recorded in more than a half century, Curtin said. Favorable assessments of the current job situation were joined by optimistic expectations for additional declines in unemployment during the year ahead. Few complained about interest rates, although they were expected to increase by the most consumers since 2006.

Gains in jobs, wages and after-tax pay

When asked to assess their financial situation, 54 percent of all consumers reported improved finances, the highest proportion since January 2000. Income gains of 2.2 percent were anticipated across all households, just below the 2017 peak of 2.3 percent—the highest since 2008. Among those under age 45, a median income increase of 4.2 percent was expected during the year ahead, which was also down from the 2017 peak of 4.8 percent.

Consumers do not anticipate a surge in the inflation rate anytime soon, Curtin said. When asked to explain their financial situation in the February survey, the fewest consumers in decades cited rising prices as a cause for declining living standards.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Consumer Sentiment Index was 99.7 in the February 2018 survey, up from 95.7 in January and 96.3 in February 2017. The Current Conditions Index was 114.9 in February, up from 110.5 in January and 111.5 last February. The Expectations
Index was 90.0 in February, up from 86.3 in January and last year’s 86.5.

About the Surveys

The Surveys of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95-percent level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Index the minimum is 6 points.


Bernie DeGroat, 734-647-1847,
Surveys of Consumers, 734-763-5224

Social scientist and historian of survey research Jean Converse dies at 90

Jean Converse in a blue top.

Jean McDonnell Converse, a social scientist, historian of survey research, and expert in interview techniques, died on January 25, 2018, in Park Ridge, Ill.

Converse’s work served two very important roles in the field of survey research, according to research professor Michael Traugott of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) and professor emeritus of Communication Studies. “She was a historian, and she wrote the definitive book on survey history in the United States during its formative years, as well as her notable work in questionnaire design. And at the Institute of Social Research, she ran the Detroit Area Study for several years, which was a training mechanism for two generations of social science graduate students where they learned how to conduct surveys in the field, how to interview subjects and analyze data. We’re certainly going to miss her.”

Converse’s extensive recording of the history of survey research in the United States, and what is often referred to as the ultimate text on the subject, “Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emergence 1890-1960,” was published in 1987. In an ISR interview in 1997, Converse said, “I was concerned that some of the people that I knew in the senior staff were getting along in years and that we didn’t have any archives in the Institute that recorded their perception of the development of the Institute.” She began a scholarly search into the history of ISR, as well as other leading survey research institutions that pioneered the field, including the Bureau of Applied Social Research and the National Opinion Research Center. “Her book is an excellent and comprehensive scholarly treatment of the origin and development of the social science survey,” says Howard Schuman, professor emeritus of sociology and research scientist emeritus at ISR. “It is the best such work I know of, and might well have met the requirements for a doctoral dissertation, with the additional virtue of being extremely well-written.”

Stanley Presser, Converse’s co-author on one of the leading texts on developing questionnaires, “Survey Questions: Handcrafting the Standardized Questionnaire,” and a professor in the sociology department and the Joint Program in Survey Methodology at the University of Maryland, says, “Jean’s elegantly crafted research has stood the test of time. Her magnum opus, ‘Survey Research in the United States’ continues to be the definitive history of the field, and her volume ‘Conversations at Random’ has no rival in helping us appreciate the nature of standardized interviewing.”

As an expert in interviewing techniques, Converse’s work also extended to the Detroit Area Study (DAS) where she was very involved, including serving as Director. Started in 1951, DAS was established at U-M to offer faculty research, graduate student training and useful data about Metro Detroit. Reflecting on the 37th DAS in 1988, Converse wrote: “That DAS continues to survive, and indeed to spawn offspring practica or area studies, is no small tribute to the cohorts of faculty, staff, and students who have nurtured and sustained this unique enterprise over half a century. The DAS also serves as an enduring legacy of the inspiration and efforts of the founders to create a ‘training and research laboratory in the community.’ This success, despite the odds, is a testament to the lasting value of a Detroit Area Study for students at the University of Michigan.”

Reynolds Farley, a principal investigator in the 1976 DAS that analyzed residential segregation in Detroit, worked closely with Converse and also crossed paths with her at ISR while he worked at the Population Studies Center. “I saw how she applied her learnings,” says Farley. “Jean was very interested in how do we conduct survey research correctly and, of course, it involves many different things especially questionnaire design and sample selection. She was very pleasant to work with and extremely helpful to students. It’s a rigorous time going to grad school and trying to write a dissertation and Jean was wonderful to students. She was an unfailingly elegant person. There were times in the academic world, like any bureaucracy, where people can be difficult and quite nasty, and Jean was above that, she didn’t get into personal rivalry. She had a sophisticated elegance.”

Jean and Phil standing.

Jean and Phil at the Miller Converse Lecture in 2013.

Converse was born October 21, 1927 in Chicago. In 1951, she married Philip E. Converse, a leading authority on public opinion and electoral behavior, professor emeritus of sociology and political science at U-M, and former ISR director, who passed away in December 2014 at age 86. “Being a social scientist and the spouse of a prominent social scientist is a tricky position,” says Schuman. “But Jean never relied on Phil or his prominence. She took great care to achieve success on her own. We co-authored journal articles together, and I have such great respect and admiration for her as a social scientist. She possessed an unusual writing ability; there was a nice touch to everything she wrote.”

Former teaching fellow for DAS, professor emeritus at U-M, and current Provost of Georgetown University Robert Groves says, “Of course, what struck you first about Jean was her open humanity and pleasant ways. What everyone soon also discovered was that she was as bright and intellectually gifted as they come.”

According to Presser, “Jean sparkled with wit, intelligence, and joy. In working with her, I learned much about how to do research – and respect the respondents on whom the endeavor depends – and simultaneously to have the time of one’s life.”

Converse is survived by her sons, Timothy and Peter, and Peter’s wife Maureen and children Edward “Ned” and Erin.

A memorial is being planned for Saturday, May 19, 2018 at 2:00 pm at the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting (1420 Hill Street, Ann Arbor, Mich.). Memorial donations may be made to the American Friends Service Committee or to the Philip Converse and Warren Miller Fellowship in American Political Behavior at ISR.


Patrick Shields,, 734-764-8369

Consumers judge 2017 the best year since 2000

Surveys of Consumers Logo

ANN ARBOR—Consumer confidence continued to slowly sink in December, with most of the decline among lower income households, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

The extent of the decline was minor, with the December figure just below the average for 2017 (95.9 versus 96.8), said U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys. Indeed, the average in 2017 was the highest since 2000, and only the long expansions of the 1960s and 1990s were significantly higher.

The strength was due to assessments of current economic conditions that were the second highest since 2000, offset by a slight increase in uncertainty about future prospects, Curtin said. Overall, the data indicate that real personal consumption expenditures will expand by 2.6 percent in 2018.

“Tax reform was spontaneously mentioned by 29 percent of all consumers when they were asked about recent economic developments,” Curtin said. “There was nearly an equal split between those that anticipated positive as negative impacts on their future economic prospects. Party affiliation was the dominant correlate of people’s assessments of the tax legislation, with the long term economic outlook most negatively affected.

“Most consumers will know more about the revised tax code when the new paycheck withholding amounts take effect in early 2018. While the mostly small gains in take-home pay may not spark an uptick in optimism, those gains would act to dampen any renewed pessimism.”

Favorable Personal Finances

Consumers reported the most favorable assessments of their current finances in 17 years. In the December survey, and for 2017 as a whole, 50 percent of all consumers reported that their finances had improved.

Improved financial prospects for the year ahead was expected by 40 percent of all consumers in December, and also equal to the average 2017 reading. This was only marginally below the yearly peak since 1960 of 43 percent recorded in 2000.  

Consumers were somewhat more concerned about real income advances as they anticipated slightly lower income gains and a slightly higher inflation rate, Curtin said.

Continued Strength in Discretionary Purchases

The continued strength in buying plans for household durables has been due to more frequent price reductions, which are expected to continue following the holidays, according to Curtin. The vehicle market has benefited equally from price discounts as well as low interest rates.

Home-buying conditions drew as many positive as negative references to prices, although higher prices will cause an increase in the supply of available homes for sale, Curtin said. Changes in tax laws are not expected to have much impact on the overall market, although it will have some negative impact on homes with large mortgages in locales with high tax rates.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Consumer Sentiment Index was 95.9 in December 2017, down from 98.5 in November and last December 98.2. The Current Conditions Index was 113.8 in December, above last month’s 113.5 and last year’s 111.9. The Expectations Index was 84.3 in December, down from 88.9 in November and 89.5 in last December’s survey.

About the Surveys

The Survey of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95-percent level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Index the minimum is 6 points.

Bernie DeGroat, 734-647-1847,
Surveys of Consumers, 734-763-5224

Consumers more certain about positive prospects

Surveys of Consumers Logo

ANN ARBOR—Consumer sentiment was slightly below last month’s decade high, but has remained in the narrow positive range it has traveled since the start of the year, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

What has recently changed is the degree of certainty with which consumers now hold their economic expectations, said U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys. Inflation expectations have shown the smallest dispersion on record, and increased certainty about future income and job prospects has become a key factor that has supported discretionary purchases.

To be sure, incomes are expected to increase only modestly, and unemployment is anticipated to decline only marginally from its current low, Curtin said. Given that the average level of consumer confidence in 2017 has been higher than anytime since 2004, it represents the best runup to the holiday shopping season for retailers in a decade.

“In contrast to the media buzz about approaching cyclical peaks and an aging expansion, with the implication of greater uncertainty about future economic trends, consumers have voiced greater certainty about their expectations for income, employment, and inflation,” Curtin said.

“Some caution is warranted given that the current expansion will soon be the second longest expansion since the mid-1800s, as well as the potential for significant changes in tax policies and new Fed leadership. Importantly, the data indicate that these changes in fiscal and monetary policies have yet had any noticeable impact on consumer expectations. The data still point toward real spending growth of 2.7 percent during 2018.”

Favorable Personal Finances

Half of all consumers reported improved finances in November as they have throughout 2017, marking the best year since 2000. When asked to explain recent changes to their finances in their own words, on average during 2017, 37 percent cited income gains, also the highest proportion since 2000.

Income gains of 2.1 percent were anticipated in the year ahead across all households in the past two months, the highest since 2008. Moreover, household wealth benefited from increases in home and stock values during the past year.

Greater Certainty Benefits Discretionary Purchases

After asking their overall assessment of buying conditions for homes, vehicles and household durables, consumers are asked to explain their views. While references to prices and interest rates typically dominate their responses, increased certainty about future job and incomes has recently risen to its highest levels since 2000.

Future job and income prospects determine the willingness of households to draw down savings or increase debt to make discretionary purchases. To be sure, consumers still remain cautious about increasing their indebtedness as they still hold fast to the lessons learned in the Great Recession about its risks and potential consequences.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Consumer Sentiment Index was 98.5 in the November 2017 survey, between the decade peak of 100.7 in October and last November’s 93.8. The Current Conditions Index was 113.5 in November, below October’s 116.5, which was the highest level since 2000. The Expectations Index was 88.9 in November, between last month’s 90.5 and last year’s 85.2.

About the Surveys

The Surveys of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95-percent level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Indices the minimum is 6 points.


Bernie DeGroat, 734-647-1847,
Surveys of Consumers, 734-763-5224

Sexual assault among college students is bad; for those who don’t attend college, it’s worse

ANN ARBOR—One in four women in the United States will experience forced intercourse by the time they’re 44, and the risk is greater for women who have attended little or no college compared to those who attend four or more years of college.

Women who have attended little or no college are at about 2.5 times greater risk for experiencing forced intercourse. About 8 percent of men report forced intercourse, and men with less than four years of college have four times higher odds of experienced forced intercourse, according to a study by William Axinn, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and professor of sociology and public policy.

After completing a survey about sexual assault on a college campus, Axinn wanted to study the rate of this kind of assault among people who haven’t attended college. To study this, he and his colleagues used data from the U.S. National Survey of Family Growth. The nationally representative survey queries about 5,000 American men and women ages 15-44 annually about their family-related behaviors and outcomes, including whether the respondent has experienced forced intercourse.

The survey focuses on family and reproductive health for both men and women. Some of its questions measure intercourse, including what it terms “forced intercourse.” The survey doesn’t use the word “rape,” according to the National Academy of Science, surveys may undercount sexual assault when they use the word “rape.”

“When I first saw how high the rates were on campus, like most Americans, I was deeply disturbed,” said Axinn, a research professor in both the Survey Research Center and the Population Studies Center at ISR. “When I thought through the processes and imagined it could be even worse off campus, I was disturbed that we’re paying so much attention to the on-campus issue and not giving enough attention to young people who are not fortunate enough to be enrolled in college.”

Data from the National Survey of Family Growth tend to be high quality because respondents answer sensitive questions through audio-computer assisted self-interviewing, which provides greater privacy than speaking with an interviewer. These questions include whether a sexual encounter happened during violent assault, intoxication, verbal pressure or verbal degradation.

“Intoxication was a common circumstance for sexual assault, but more common was verbal pressure or verbal abuse,” Axinn said. “The parallel between this national result and campus-specific results was striking.”

Axinn and fellow researchers Maura Bardos and Brady West, both of the Survey Methodology Program in the Survey Research Center, found that men and women who have the most college experience have the lowest rates of forced intercourse. The reasons are many and hard to quantify, but Axinn thinks it has to do with the resources of college students’ parents as well as the benefits of a college environment.

The children of wealthy parents are more likely to go to college, which delays dating, entering into sexual relationships and marriage, Axinn says. On the other hand, people who don’t attend college begin dating and having sexual relationships earlier, which increases the risk of sexual assault, Axinn says, pointing out that sexual assault is more likely to be perpetrated by people known to the victim.

College students are also more likely to be supervised.

“Although a campus puts men and women in close physical proximity to each other, it does so in a pretty structured environment: dorm living, supervised classes, libraries. There are people everywhere,” Axinn said. “People of the same age who are not enrolled in college may have less supervision in their lives and more opportunity for a relationship to transition into being sexual—which could be lovely, or could be unwanted.”

Axinn also stresses that his team’s findings are of forced intercourse, which account for less than half of sexual assault, according to previous studies. Other forms of sexual assault that included unwanted touching, kissing or other sexual contact likely drives the 25 percent statistic much higher.

The study was published in the journal, Social Science Research.


Morgan Sherburne,, 734-647-1844

Seemed all right to me: Differences in feelings of tension contribute to divorce

ANN ARBOR—Women are twice as likely as men to file for divorce, and a new University of Michigan study sheds a little light on why.

The study, which followed 355 couples over the course of 16 years, found that while wives’ and husbands’ marital tension increased over time, husbands’ tensions increased at a greater rate than wives.’ It was increased marital tension among wives, however, that predicted divorce.

Increased tension among wives was particularly problematic for marital longevity when their husbands reported low levels of tension over time. The study, led by Kira Birditt of the U-M Institute for Social Research, was published in the journal, Developmental Psychology.

“The association with divorce was greater if men reported low levels of tension when women reported a higher accumulation of tension,” said Birditt, a research associate professor and lead author of the study. “It could reflect a lack of investment in the relationship on the husband’s part—they might believe it’s unnecessary to change or adjust their behavior.”

hands of wife and husband signing divorce documents

Photo credit: Krinivis/iStock

The study used data from the Early Years of Marriage Project, which began in 1986. About half of the 355 couples followed were white and half were black. The couples were interviewed between the first four and nine months of their marriage, and again in years 2, 3, 4, 7 and 16 of the project.

Interviewers asked the husbands and wives about their irritation or resentment over the previous month and how frequently they felt tense from fighting, arguing or disagreeing with their spouses.

Women across the study reported higher levels of tension when they entered the marriage. Husbands reported low levels of tension, but their tension increased more over the course of the marriage.

“It could be that wives have more realistic expectations of marriage, while husbands had more idealistic expectations of wives,” Birditt said.

About 40 percent of the 355 couples divorced during the study’s 16-year-period, which matches the national average of the time period, she said.

“These findings are exciting because it’s important to consider both people in the relationship,” Birditt said. “Previous studies have looked at married individuals, but you’re not getting information from both people in the couple. People in the same relationships have different ideas about the quality of their tie.”

Study abstract

Kira Birditt

Contact: Morgan Sherburne, 734-647-1844,