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

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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.

Contacts

Bernie DeGroat, 734-647-1847, bernied@umich.edu
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.

Contact

Patrick Shields, peshield@umich.edu, 734-764-8369

Consumers judge 2017 the best year since 2000

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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.

Contact
Bernie DeGroat, 734-647-1847, bernied@umich.edu
Surveys of Consumers, 734-763-5224

Consumers more certain about positive prospects

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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.

Contact

Bernie DeGroat, 734-647-1847, bernied@umich.edu
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.

Contact

Morgan Sherburne, morganls@umich.edu, 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, morganls@umich.edu

Surge in consumer confidence

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ANN ARBOR—Consumer sentiment surged in October, reaching its highest level since the start of 2004, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

This was only the second time that the Sentiment Index was above 100.0 since the end of the record 1990s expansion. The October gain was due to the most favorable assessments of the financial situation of consumers since 2000, said U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys.

In addition, the majority of consumers reported that the national economy continued to expand, which they have done in every survey conducted in 2017. To be sure, consumers don’t anticipate accelerating growth rates but rather anticipate the uninterrupted continuation of the slower pace of growth that has characterized this recovery, Curtin said.

“The finances of consumers have benefited from low unemployment and inflation rates as well as renewed increases in home values and a resurgent stock market,” Curtin said. “These favorable trends have made lower wage growth rates more acceptable.

“Importantly, the Great Recession has caused a fundamental change in assessments of economic risks, with consumers now giving greater preference to economic stability relative to economic growth. This is the essential reason that consumers have voiced such positive assessments of such modest prospects for the future pace of economic growth. Overall, consumer spending is expected to increase by 2.6 percent in 2017 and in the first half of 2018.”

Favorable Personal Finances

Recently improved finances were reported by 53 percent of all consumers in October, the highest proportion since the start of 2000. When asked to explain how their finances had improved, gains in incomes and wealth were mentioned by the majority of all households.

Two-thirds of all homeowners reported increases in their home’s value, and the probability of future stock gains was judged the highest in more than a decade. When asked about their financial prospects for the year ahead, consumers were still quite optimistic. An annual income gain of 2.1 percent was expected in October, up from 1.7 percent last month and 1.5 percent in last October’s survey.

Prospect for Economy Brighten

The majority of consumers reported ongoing gains in the national economy in each survey conducted in 2017. Although accelerating gains in economic growth are not anticipated, it still meant that 55 percent of all consumers expected good times in the economy as a whole during the year ahead, and more importantly, 51 percent of all consumers anticipated the expansion would continue uninterrupted over the next five years, Curtin said.

This optimistic outlook was accompanied by nearly seven-in-10 consumers who anticipated small increases in interest rates during the year ahead. The unemployment rate was also anticipated to continue to inch downward during the year ahead.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Consumer Sentiment Index was 100.7 in the October 2017 survey, up from 95.1 in September and 87.2 last October. The Current Conditions Index was 116.5 in October, above last month’s 111.7 and last year’s 103.2, and the highest level in seventeen years. The Expectations Index rose to 90.5 in October, above last month’s 84.4 and last October’s 76.8.

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.

Surveys of Consumers

U-M Institute for Social Research

Contact: Morgan Sherburne, 734-647-1844, morganls@umich.edu

National study shows marijuana use among U.S. college students at highest level in three decades

Monitoring the Future logo

Marijuana use among U.S. college students in 2016 was at the highest level seen in past three decades, according to the most recent findings from the national Monitoring the Future Follow-up study. College student marijuana use has been showing a steady increase over the past decade.

The tables and figures associated with this story are available here

In 2016, 39 percent of full-time college students aged 19-22 indicated that they used marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months, and 22 percent indicated that they used at least once in the prior 30 days. Both of these 2016 percentages are the highest found since 1987, and represent a steady increase since 2006 (when they were 30 and 17 percent, respectively).

However, the 2016 percentages are still below the peaks in use found in the early 1980s when 12-month and 30-day prevalence reached over 50 and 33 percent, respectively. (Findings on college students were first available in the study in 1980.) Daily or near daily use of marijuana—defined as having used 20 or more times in the prior 30 days—was at 4.9 percent in 2016; this is among the highest levels seen for over 30 years, though it has not shown any further rise in the past two years.

John Schulenberg

John Schulenberg

“These continuing increases in marijuana use, particularly heavy use, among the nation’s college students deserve attention from college personnel as well as students and their parents,” said John Schulenberg, the current principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future Follow-up study. “We know from our research and that of others that heavy marijuana use is associated with poor academic performance and non-completion of college.”

“Colleges are not simply inheriting this problem from high schools. Marijuana use has remained steady in recent years among the nation’s high school seniors, so this increase among college students suggests it has something to do with college and young adulthood experiences,” Schulenberg further noted.

There may be multiple reasons for the continuing increase in marijuana use among college students (and among their non-college peers). But one likely reason, according to the study results, is the ongoing decline in perceptions of risk of harm from regular marijuana use. In 2016, 30 percent of those aged 19-22 perceived regular use of marijuana as carrying great risk of harm, the lowest level reached since 1980.

“This percentage peaked at 75 percent in 1991, when marijuana use among college students and their non-college age-mates was at historic lows,” said Lloyd Johnston, the original principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future Follow-up study. “We have consistently seen this inverse relationship between perceptions of risks of harm and actual use, with changes in perceptions of risk typically preceding changes in use.”

In 2016, 12-month and 30-day marijuana use were similar for full-time college males and females, but daily marijuana use was higher for college males (6.6 percent) than college females (3.9 percent). Twelve-month and 30-day marijuana use tend to be lower among full-time college students than among their same-age peers who are not in college full-time. This is particularly true for daily marijuana use, with daily use among non-college youth being two and one-half times as high—at 12.8 percent in 2016, the highest level since this panel study began in 1980—versus 4.9 percent among full-time college students.

Marijuana in rolling paper, held by a man's hands.

Photo Credit: Ablestock/Thinkstock

These findings emanate from the long term Monitoring the Future study, which has been tracking substance use of all kinds among American college students for the past 37 years. It is conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Michigan and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These results are based on full-time students who are one to four years beyond high school graduation and are enrolled in a two- or four-year college in March of the given year.

Use of Other Illicit Drugs

The use of any illicit drug (including marijuana) has been gradually increasing among college students, with annual prevalence (that is, any use in the prior 12 months) reaching 42 percent in 2016, the highest level over the past 30 years. But most of this recent increase has been due to the increase in marijuana use noted above.

Annual use of illicit drugs other than marijuana among college students has leveled in recent years, with about one in five students reporting using an illicit drug other than, and usually in addition to, marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months. There was an increase in annual use from 2008 through 2014, but this increase appears to have stalled at a relatively high level over the past few years. In 2016, 20 percent of college students used an illicit drug other than marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months. Between 2013 and 2016, this percentage has ranged between 19 and 21 percent, among the highest percentages seen since the late 1980s.

This index of illicit drugs other than marijuana consists of numerous illicit drugs, most of which have leveled or declined in use in recent years.

In particular, the non-medical use of prescription narcotic drugs (other than heroin) has shown some leveling in the past few years among college students. Annual prevalence declined from a peak of 8.8 percent in 2006 to 3.3 percent in 2015; but it increased non-significantly to 3.8 percent in 2016, suggesting that this important decline in the use of narcotics without medical supervision may be ending.

Use of heroin, another narcotic drug, has been low among college students for many years. The highest annual prevalence recorded since 1980 was in 1998 at 0.6 percent, but has been at or under 0.3 percent since 2005 and was down to 0.2 percent in 2016.

Use of amphetamines without medical supervision has leveled in the past few years among college students. Annual prevalence has held steady at about 10 percent since 2013, after a steady increase from 5.7 percent in 2008. Notably, amphetamine use tends to be higher among college students than non-college youth, likely due to college students using them to try to improve their academic performance.

The use of MDMA (ecstasy and more recently “Molly”) had made a bit of a comeback among college students, increasing between 2007 (2.2 percent) and 2012 (5.8 percent), but then declining through 2015 (4.2 percent). It increased non-significantly to 4.7 percent in 2016, suggesting that use of this substance among college students is leveling.

The use of LSD among college students has been gradually increasing from an historic low of 0.7 percent in 2005 to 3.1 percent in 2016, still well below its historic peak of 6.3 percent in 1982.

Cocaine use among college students has been level in recent years. In 2016, annual cocaine use was 4.0 percent, similar to 2014 and 2015. This constitutes a slight increase from a recent low of 2.7 percent in 2013, but far below the historic highs of 17 percent in the mid-1980s.

Certain drugs have declined in popularity quite rapidly among the nation’s college students. For example, annual use of synthetic marijuana, which is usually sold over the counter under such brand names as “K2” and “Spice,” dropped from 8.5 percent when first measured in 2011 to just 1.3 percent in 2016—a decline of about 85 percent in just five years. Annual use of Salvia has fallen from 5.8 percent when its use was first measured in 2009 to just 0.7 percent in 2016—a decline of almost 90 percent.

Some other drugs never gained much of a foothold on American college campuses, with use being at near-zero prevalence among college students in 2016. Drugs for which annual use was 0.5 percent or less in 2016 among college students included: ketamine, methamphetamine, crystal methamphetamine (ice), steroids, crack cocaine, “bath salts” (a form of synthetic stimulants), and GHB.

In general, college males are more likely than college females to use illicit drugs other than marijuana. But in recent years, some of the gender gaps have decreased. In 2016, college females, compared to college males, had similar or slightly higher annual prevalence of Adderall, narcotics other than heroin (OxyContin, and Vicodin specifically), sedatives, and synthetic marijuana. With the exception of amphetamines, illicit drug use tends to be lower among college students compared to same-age non-college youth.

Alcohol Use

Alcohol continues to remain the drug of choice among college students, with 79 percent indicating that they used in the prior 12 months and 63 percent in the prior 30 days in 2016. Indeed, 61 percent say that they were drunk at least once in the prior 12 months and 41 percent in the prior 30 days. Thus, drinking and drunkenness remain commonplace on the nation’s college campuses, even though there has been some modest falloff in these rates since the early 1980s. For both 12-month and 30-day alcohol use in 2016, female college students report slightly higher prevalence than college males. Alcohol use tends to be higher among college students than same-aged non-college youth. It is noteworthy, however, that in high school, college-bound 12th graders are less involved in alcohol (and other substances) than other 12th graders, indicating that the higher levels of alcohol use among college students compared to same-age non-college youth emerges after high school.

Lazy student with beer and cigarette on hand

Photo credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Thinkstock

Binge drinking—defined as having five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past two weeks—was reported by 32 percent of all college students in 2016. While binge drinking has gradually declined among college males over the past thirty years, there has been little change among college females, resulting in some closing of the gender gap (though males have consistently had a higher rate of binge drinking). Across the years, binge drinking has been more common among college students than same-aged non-college youth.

Although having 5 or more drinks in a row can be dangerous, college students often drink at more dangerous levels. This is what is called “extreme binge drinking” or “high intensity drinking” and is defined as having 10 or more drinks—or even 15 or more drinks—on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks. Over the years 2012 to 2016 combined, about one in ten college students (10.1 percent) reported having 10 or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks; one in 30 (3.4 percent) reported having 15 or more drinks in a row at least once in the same interval. These percentages are much higher among college males than females, with 16.5 percent and 6.6 percent of college males having 10+ and 15+ drinks in a row in the past two weeks (corresponding percentages for college females were 6.2 percent and 1.4 percent).

“Excessive drinking clearly remains the major substance use problem on campuses,” said Schulenberg. “Having 10 or more drinks in a row, which is now happening for one-in-six college males at least once per two-week period, can result in alcohol poisoning, serious accidents, and a host of unwise decisions and dangerous behaviors that adversely affect them and those around them.”

Tobacco Use

Cigarette smoking continues to decline gradually among college students, and the cumulative decline over the past 17 years has been dramatic. A peak rate of any smoking in the prior 30 days was reached in 1999 at 30.6 percent. By 2016 the rate had fallen by over two-thirds to 8.9 percent, a record low and the first time it has been under 10 percent. Daily smoking declined even more, from 19.3 percent in 1999 to 2.6 percent in 2016—a drop of over four-fifths and also a record low since 1980. This continued decline in college student cigarette smoking corresponds to what has been found among the nation’s high school students, indicating that this ongoing improvement has its source in fewer teens initiating cigarette smoking.

From 1980 through 1993, college females had higher rates of smoking than college males; but since 1994, males have had higher rates.

Compared to college students, same-aged non-college youth have dramatically higher rates of smoking: in 2016, 18.8 percent indicated prior 30-day smoking vs. 8.9 percent among the college students. Heavy smoking is even more concentrated among those not in college, with their half-pack or more daily smoking being 5.7 percent versus 1.7 percent among college students. Cigarette smoking is decreasing among non-college youth, but their smoking still remains much higher than among college youth, emphasizing that in this country, cigarette smoking has long been negatively correlated with educational attainment.

Use of other forms of tobacco, including using a hookah, small cigars, snus, and dissolvable tobacco also have been decreasing among college students, and these continuing decreases were evident in 2016.

Electronic vaporizers, which include e-cigarettes, were used in the 30 days prior to the survey by 6.9 percent of full-time college students in 2016, with use being higher among college males (9.5 percent) than among college females (5.2 percent). These percentages declined non-significantly from 2015 levels.

“The findings regarding tobacco use continue to be an important part of the good news from our study,” noted Schulenberg. “The new record lows in cigarette smoking among college students, combined with declines in the use of other forms of tobacco suggests that today’s college students have been given the context and tools to increasingly avoid tobacco use, a benefit that will accrue with age.”

About the study

The Monitoring the Future study (MTF) is now in its 43rd year. Starting in 1980, the MTF Follow-up has included nationally representative samples of full-time college students who are one to four years beyond high school. The annual samples of college students have ranged between about 900 and 1,500 per year.

MTF is an investigator-initiated research undertaking, conceived and conducted by a team of research professors (listed as authors below) at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. It is funded under a series of peer-reviewed, competitive research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health.

The MTF Main study conducts annual national surveys of high school seniors, from which random, nationally representative subsamples are drawn for follow-up by mail in future years. Of these follow-up respondents, those who are one to four years beyond high school and who report being in a 2-year or 4-year college full-time in March comprise the college student sample each year. They are not drawn from particular colleges or universities, which helps to make the sample more representative of the wide range of two-and four-year institutions of higher education in the country.

A shorter version of the news release is available here.

The findings presented here are drawn from Chapters 5, 8 and 9 in this newly published monograph:

Schulenberg, J.E., Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M, Bachman, J.G., Miech, R.A., & Patrick, M.E. (2017). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2016: Volume 2, College students and adults ages 19-55. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 445 pp. Available at http://www.monitoringthefuture.org//pubs/monographs/mtf-vol2_2016.pdf

Contact

Morgan Sherburne, 734-647-1844, morganls@umich.edu

U-M Surveys of Consumers: Improved personal finances

ANN ARBOR—Consumer sentiment has remained largely unchanged at very favorable levels since the start of 2017, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

The Sentiment Index has been higher during the first eight months of 2017 than in any year since 2000, which was the peak year of the longest expansion in U.S. history, said U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys.

The renewed strength in 2017 was mainly due to consumers’ record favorable assessments of their own financial situations, he said. Lows in unemployment, inflation and interest rates, as well as renewed gains in the value of their homes and stock portfolios, pushed personal financial evaluations to near all-time peaks.

“When consumers were asked about the news they had heard of recent developments, surprisingly few consumers made any reference to Charlottesville, North Korea or Harvey—although the ultimate extent of the damage from Harvey was unknown at the time of the last interviews,” Curtin said. “Harvey may slightly diminish the 3rd-quarter pace of growth and cause higher gas prices. Given the current resilience of consumers, temporary increases in gas prices as well as a brief period of weakness in economic growth and employment are unlikely to derail confidence. Nonetheless, all of these events are more likely to increase precautionary motives and to slightly temper spending trends.”

Personal Finances Reach Decade Peak

An improved financial situation was reported by 51 percent of all consumers in each of the past three months, the highest proportion since November 2000, and only slightly below the all-time peak of 57 percent in 1998.

When asked to explain how their finances had improved, consumers mentioned gains in incomes and household wealth from rising values of equities and homes. When asked about their financial prospects for the year ahead, 43 percent anticipated gains, the highest proportion since March 2004.

These records were set with the expectation that next year’s income gain would be 1.9 percent across all households, but a more robust annual income gain of 4.6 percent was anticipated by householders under 45 years old in the August 2017 survey.

Home Buying and Home Selling Conditions Diverge

Rising home prices have driven a wedge between consumers’ views of home buying and home selling, Curtin said. Home-buying conditions were viewed less favorably in August than anytime in the prior six years. Consumers were more likely to cite rising home prices for their negative views, mentioned by 22 percent of all consumers, the highest level in more than a decade.

In contrast, views about home-selling conditions have been more favorable during the past six months than anytime since the housing boom in 2005. When asked to explain their views, 36 percent mentioned rising selling prices, the highest level since this question was first asked in 1992.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Consumer Sentiment Index was 96.8 in August 2017, up from 93.4 in July and 89.8 in last August’s survey. The Current Conditions Index was 110.9 in the August 2017 survey, between July’s 113.4 and last August’s 107.0. The Expectations Index rose to 87.7 in the August 2017 survey, up from 80.5 in July and 78.7 in last August’s survey.

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.

Contacts

Morgan Sherburne, morganls@umich.edu, 734-647-1844
Surveys of Consumers, www.umich.edu/~umsurvey