Richard Nisbett

Richard NisbettA person’s IQ—or Intelligence Quotient—is just one indicator of what he or she can accomplish, and may change through life, according to a Feb. 19 CNN Health article. Factors like poverty and stress can affect how well people score on IQ tests, which measure reasoning and problem-solving abilities, the article said. Studies by ISR researcher Richard Nisbett have shown that the IQ scores of poor kids adopted into middle-class families often increase by 15 to 20 points; a score of 100 is the average. “Heritability is not as great as some people (believe),” Nisbett said. “Environmental factors are very potent.” Those with high IQs also may lack creativity and other strengths, Nisbett said. And when it comes to predicting the ability to succeed in college, he believes high school grades are a better indicator than IQ tests such as the SAT. “GPA is raw smarts times how hard you work times self-control times a lot of other things,” he said. “I see graduate students with extremely high IQs who can’t achieve much because they’re lacking in curiosity…They’re lacking the ability to get along with people.”

ISR Health and Retirement Study

Photo by ThinkstockA recent report featured in a Feb. 25 Forbes article adds new fodder to the debate about retirement’s impact on health. Some research has shown that impact to be negative. But according to a new report, using data from ISR’s Health and Retirement Study, retirement has a significant and beneficial effect on health. Michael Insler, an assistant professor of economics at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of the report, acknowledged that his conclusions go against the often accepted belief that people fall apart once they retire. Rather, he said, the increase in free time allows many individuals to devote more time and energy to healthy behaviors. Insler found a decrease in the percentage of people who smoke post retirement. He also discovered that 52% of respondents exercised strenuously for at least 30 minutes three or more times a week within two to four years of retiring, versus about 48 percent of respondents in the two to four years before they retired. “It’s less about your stress and satisfaction and more about the time you devote to your health upkeep,” Insler said.

Paula Fomby

Paula FombyPolicies and programs aimed at helping at-risk families generally focus on mothers and their children. But there’s growing acknowledgement of the important role fathers play in the lives and achievements of their kids, according to a Feb. 23 article in The Atlantic. Unfortunately, with 24 million American children being raised in homes without their biological fathers, according to the 2011 Census, fewer kids have regular contact with their dads. Such children are four times more likely to be poor, and they also often lack the stability of a single father figure; one study noted that after parents break up, children experience an average of more than 5.25 parental partnership transitions. ISR researcher Paula Fomby told The Atlantic that there hasn’t been much research yet on the impact of multiple parent figures on children. But the research there is suggests that parental figures without blood ties often do less for children. That could be because of obligations to support children fathered with other women, or because of uncertainties about their appropriate roles.

Jerald Bachman

Jerald BachmanHigh school seniors who hold jobs on the side spend most of their money on personal expenses, according to the annual Monitoring the Future study, which tracked 49,000 seniors from 1981 through 2011. Throughout the 30 years of the study, the majority of students spent at least half their pay on items like clothes, music, and eating out, according to a Feb. 8 story on Michigan Radio. But ISR researcher Jerald Bachman said kids today are spending less money on cars. “Kids are just more connected electronically,” Bachman said. “So they don’t have to travel around as much in cars. And their parents are a bit more likely to chauffeur them around than they were in earlier decades.” Over the life of the study, only about 17 percent of 12th-graders have used at least half their pay for college savings. Bachman did note one significant change in the responses: Fifty-nine percent of high school seniors worked in 2010, down from about 75 percent just nine years earlier. “I don’t think it’s primarily because teens have lost interest in jobs,” he said. “I think it’s primarily because jobs are just not available.”

Kira Birditt

Kira BirdittBaby boomer parents tend to believe that their relationships with their adult children are much closer than their own relationships with their parents were at the same age. But research is showing this usually isn’t the case. According to a Jan. 20 article in Psychology Today, parents in their 50s have a developmental stake in seeing relationships with their kids as close and nurturing. But their children are likely to report the same kinds of parental aggravations that the baby boomers once griped about with their own parents. The article cited recent work by ISR researcher Kira Birditt, who, along with colleagues, interviewed 158 Philadelphia families. The adult children most often complained about relationship tensions that arose from parents seeking too much control or contact in their lives. Parents, by contrast, tended to point to the individual failings of their kids, such as bad job and financial choices. Mothers, the study found, were most annoying to their children. “Children feel their mothers make more demands for closeness, and they are generally more intrusive than fathers,” the report noted.

Helen Levy

Helen Levy

Helen Levy

Testifying Jan. 28 at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the Affordable Care Act’s definition of full-time employment as 30 hours a week, ISR economist Helen Levy told the panel that raising the definition to 40 hours a week would create more problems than it would solve. About three to five times as many workers would be in danger of having their hours reduced by employers looking to avoid providing health care insurance if the floor for full-time work was increased, she said. That’s because there are many more uninsured workers who work 40 hours a week than 30 hours. Levy’s testimony was included in news reports of the hearing that appeared in the New York Times, the Indianapolis Star and other news media. Read her full testimony.

Mansoor Moaddel

Mansoor MoaddelA recent U-M study comparing the values and perspectives of the Tunisian public to residents of six other Muslim-majority countries explored issues ranging from secular politics to national pride. It also looked at how people believe women should dress in public. According to a Jan. 8 post on Fact Tank, a Pew Research Center blog, the study, led by ISR researcher Mansoor Moaddel, found that most people want women to completely cover their hair, but not necessarily their faces. Respondents made their choices by looking at cards depicting women in six styles of headdress, ranging from a burqa with full face covering to a woman with no head covering at all. In Saudi Arabia, 63 percent of those surveyed opted for the second most concealing headdress—a niqab, which covers the face, leaving just the eyes revealed. By contrast, 49 percent of respondents in Lebanon voted for no headdress whatsoever. The most popular option overall was the hijab, a veil covering head and chest, leaving the face exposed.

Martha Bailey

Martha BaileyThe “war on poverty” launched in the 1960s was critically important then and remains just as necessary today, according to a Jan. 5 opinion piece in The New York Times by ISR researcher Martha Bailey. Evidence that more work is needed includes the rate of income inequality, now at its highest level in about a century, and the fact that 1 in 5 American children are poor and likely to remain in poverty as adults. Recent critics have decried many anti-poverty programs as expensive, Bailey said. But the expenditures should be measured not as costs but as investments in the future. Programs like Head Start and food stamps have improved children’s prospects, and the Civil Rights Act and its federal enforcement boosted desegregation, improving outcomes for black teenagers and contributing to a halving of the black/white poverty gap. “Many critics sell the war on poverty short,” Bailey wrote. “Renewing our commitment to the war on poverty will open opportunities for more Americans and strengthen our society and economy.”

Vicki Freedman

Vicki FreedmanStudies looking at how well seniors adapt to disability usually put them in one of two categories: independent or disabled. But a new study of more than 8,000 seniors receiving Medicare, including a small group of nursing home residents, divided those studied into five categories, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of how the elderly are coping and what help they might need, according to a Dec. 23 article in The New York Times. ISR researcher Vicki Freedman, lead author of the study, told the Times that the study provided the first look at the substantial number of elderly (25 percent) who have successfully adapted to limitations. It also identified two groups who either have reduced their activities without admitting to barriers (6 percent) or who are struggling to use assistive devices (18 percent)—groups that are vulnerable to losing their independence. “Finding ways to promote independence and well-being in these groups, now that we’ve identified them, is an important public health goal,” Freedman said.

William Axinn

William AxinnISR’s Survey Research Center (SRC) has a new partner in India—the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), India’s oldest and largest economic think tank. The partnership is a step towards strengthening ties between the University of Michigan (U-M) and Indian academic institutions and research centers. According to a Nov. 19 article in The Economic Times, the five-year Memorandum of Understanding will aid the two institutions in developing an infrastructure to support survey-based economic and other social science research in India. SRC Director William Axinn and U-M President Mary Sue Coleman signed the agreement with Shekhar Shah, director general of NCAER. “We are interested in the application of information technologies to social research in India,” Axinn said. “Collaborative research will be our top priority but the problems faced in data collection in India in terms of the sheer size of the population and the several linguistic barriers could be a perfect training ground for our students here.”