Shawna Lee

Shawna LeeSpanking is back in the news since a child abuse charge was brought against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for disciplining his 4-year-old son with a tree branch. Evidence has been mounting that spanking is counterproductive and can even alter the brain chemistry of children, according to a Sept. 17 article in the Detroit Free Press. Nevertheless, ISR researcher Shawna Lee told the Free Press, about two out of three American parents spank their children, with 30 percent of parents spanking kids as young as age 1, according to her research. “It’s troubling because it’s viewed as harmless, and it’s viewed as discipline,” said Lee. “People say, ‘My mom did it and I turned out OK.’ Most of us were spanked as kids… But what we should be telling parents is to use other strategies and not to spank. What we would consider normal discipline in a moment of anger or frustration can become excessive pretty easily.”

Jason Owen-Smith

Jason Owen-SmithThe current funding crunch is threatening the health of the nation’s research enterprise. But an equally important threat is the lack of understanding of “where science dollars really go or how research actually works,” according to ISR researcher Jason Owen-Smith. In a Sept. 19 opinion piece in CQ Roll Call, Owen-Smith and colleague Julia Lane called for greater and more insightful scrutiny of the research process. “Science funding isn’t likely to be stable until science agencies find the will and way to provide evidence on whether the current national investments are too low or too high,” the researchers wrote. “They also need to ensure that the funds the U.S. spends on research are being wisely allocated.” Owen-Smith and Lane called on federal agencies to adopt more meaningful approaches to science reporting and to demand modern tools to understand “how science funding works and generates results.”

Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks

Jeffrey Sanchez-BurksSweatpants? Jeans? Onesies that look like business suits? Work clothes aren’t what they used to be, according to a Sept. 19 article in Marketplace. Although some industries still want clothes to communicate expertise and tradition—think medical and finance—fewer businesses are using dress codes to signal the division between work and home, said ISR researcher Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks. “One of the things you find is a trend of trying to blur this boundary more—part of it’s a generational shift, part of it’s a cultural shift.” In fact, a casual or unorthodox dress code can be one way for a business to show its verve and creativity. “By breaking people’s expectations you’re literally signaling a sense that something new is to be learned, you’re trying to accomplish something that’s not necessarily mainstream, you’re focusing on issues from a new perspective, you’re signaling a break from tradition,” Sanchez-Burks said.

Jon Miller

Jon MillerFewer Canadians get degrees in science and engineering than the residents of most countries with a comparable standard of living, and fewer Canadians have science and technology jobs, according to a recent study. So it was surprising when the same study showed that Canadians are particularly knowledgeable about science and view it positively, according to an Aug. 28 Globe and Mail article. The report, which compared a survey of Canadians with surveys done in other nations, found that Canada ranks first in scientific literacy, and that Canadians are the least worried about science and its impacts. One explanation for the good showing is that Canadians keep learning about science long after graduation. “It’s not something that you learn in school and put behind you,” said ISR researcher Jon Miller, a member of the Council of Canadian Academies, which issued the report. “Canada has been particularly adept at responding to that notion.” Miller cautioned that science literacy is on the rise broadly, and that Canada’s ranking may depend in part on how recently the survey was done relative to other countries.

Matthew Shapiro

Matthew ShapiroResearchers have found that government jobs figures are no longer as accurate as they once were because the unemployed have become less willing to keep responding to surveys designed to track employment. But a new solution may have emerged: Twitter. ISR researcher Matthew Shapiro and colleagues analyzed tweets stripped of identifying data to measure changes in the unemployment rate by looking for references to job loss and related outcomes. “Naturally-occurring data, whether from accounts or social media, have the potential to reduce respondent burden, reduce the cost of data collection, and improve data quality while protecting the confidentiality of individuals,” Shapiro explained. The University of Michigan Social Media Job Loss Index, featured in an Aug. 27 CBS Moneywatch article, found significant job market fluctuations after Hurricane Katrina hit, and also came up with more accurate figures than the Bureau of Labor Statistics after the installation of new computers delayed processing unemployment claims.

Vicki Freedman

Vicki FreedmanA man unhappy in his marriage may still report high life satisfaction if his wife reports that the marriage is good. Research featured Sept. 9 on Fox News showed that being in better-rated marriages is linked with greater life satisfaction—no great surprise. But how women feel about their marriages may matter more to that satisfaction than how husbands feel. “Older husbands and wives in better marriages are more satisfied with their lives,” said ISR researcher Vicki Freedman. “But overall life satisfaction for an unhappily married man depends on how his wife describes their relationship. If she describes their marriage as higher quality, his life satisfaction is buoyed—even if he gives the marriage a less glowing assessment.” A possible explanation for why a woman’s good report matters more than a man’s is that women often bring more emotional and practical support to a marriage, and a man would likely reap those benefits from a satisfied wife. Freedman and a colleague analyzed 2009 data from a sample of almost 400 couples who were part of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

Trivellore Raghunathan

Trivellore RaghunathanThe research enterprise in India has grown significantly in recent years, but doesn’t arise from or involve faculty and students at universities to the extent it should, according to ISR researcher and Director of the Survey Research Center (SRC) Trivellore Raghunathan. In a May 21 Q&A in The Times of India, Raghunathan said India’s research and development activities occur mainly outside of the university system. Unlike in the United States, most faculty don’t conduct leading-edge research, and graduate students don’t get the opportunity to contribute to or do their own research. In India, Raghunathan said, “there is a complex web of government bureaucracies with confusing jurisdictions, overlapping mandates leading to turf wars and internal competitions. India needs a system that directly connects the university students to research along with their learning in the classrooms.” Last year, the University of Michigan and SRC signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research to encourage collaboration in survey research.

Pamela Smock

Pamela SmockCohabitation has become a normal state for American couples, either preceding marriage, following a breakup, or, in a smaller number of cases, replacing marriage. In 1960, only 400,000 couples in the U.S. cohabited, but by 2013 that had risen to 8 million couples, according to ISR researcher Pamela Smock. Of those cohabiting couples, 50 percent will eventually marry, 40 percent will break up, and 10 percent will cohabit for a longer period, Smock told Fox Business News in a May 16 interview. Still, while the majority of couples now live together outside marriage at some point in their lives, Smock said, cohabitation plays a different function for different people. “The role of cohabitation in our lives depends on what social class one is from,” she said. “The more privileged people are meeting, dating, and cohabiting, then marrying, with a wedding, and having children.” Those with less money and education are more likely to cohabit without marriage and to have children before marriage. Of the 41 percent of births now occurring out of wedlock, 60 percent are to cohabiting couples, Smock said.

Philippa Clarke

Philippa ClarkeLiving in a polluted area may be bad for more than your heart and lungs, it may also affect how clearly you think as you get older. A study by ISR researcher Philippa Clarke found that older adults living in highly polluted areas showed greater rates of cognitive decline than those living in more pristine environments, according to a June 18 article in The Chicago Tribune. Clarke and a colleague analyzed data on 780 adults aged 55 or older who participated in ISR’s 2001-2002 Americans’ Changing Lives Study. As part of that study, participants’ cognitive function was measured by math and memory tests. Clarke and her co-researcher linked those cognitive results to EPA air monitoring data from the different census tracts where respondents lived and found that participants who lived in the most polluted areas had test error scores that were one and a half times those of participants who lived in low pollution areas. Although the nation has made significant progress in the last decade to reduce air pollution, the study is further evidence of the need to continue and advance these efforts, the researchers said.

Yu Xie

Yu XieThe income gap between rich and poor has been growing steadily in China in the last few decades and is now wider than that of the United States. An April 29 Businessweek.com article described University of Michigan (U-M) research showing that income inequality in China almost doubled between 1980 and 2010. Researchers found that China’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, had increased from 0.3 in 1980 to 0.55 in 2010. By comparison, the United States’s coefficient in 2010 was 0.45. A coefficient of 0.5 or higher shows a severe income gap. A recent survey of Chinese citizens ranked income inequality as the nation’s top social challenge. But according to ISR researcher Yu Xie, the Chinese generally have put up with the disparity between rich and poor. “Chinese recognize income inequality as a serious social problem; on the other hand, they seem to have high tolerance for income inequality,” said Xie. “They don’t like it, but they seem to accept it as a fact of life. Something they have to pay for fast economic growth.”