Sept. 26, Pam Herd

Pam Herd – “The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study: What Tracking the Lives of the Wisconsin High School Class of 1957 Has Taught Us about Leading Happy and Healthy Lives”

Photo of Pam Herd
Pamela Herd

Pamela Herd is Professor of Public Affairs and Sociology. Broadly, her work focuses on aging, policy, health, and inequality. She has two streams of research. One stream examines how social policies (i.e., Social Security) affect gender, race, and class inequalities. The second stream focuses on the relationship between social factors and health. She is the Principal Investigator of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a member of the Board of Overseers of the General Social Survey, a member of the Board of Overseers of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Click here to view actual lecture from September 26th at the Crossroads of Ideas, H.F. DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building .

Assigned Readings:

Cohort Profile: Wisconsin longitudinal study (WLS) by Pamela Herd, Deborah Carr and Carol Roan

2 thoughts on “Sept. 26, Pam Herd”

  1. How wonderful that such a landmark study as the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey (WLSS) can be shared and built upon by further researchers as the cohort moves through time. So many aspects not even thought about by the original survey are getting explored by new technologies and topic areas not even dreamed of in 1957. That is the Wisconsin Idea in action – sharing for the greater good. Pam Herd did an excellent job of explaining the original study and showing how all the further research and data use has expanded on that original.
    However, one must be careful about how such data is extrapolated beyond the original cohort. Especially in light of the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory (see their books “Generations” and “Fourth Turning” about historic cohorts) which describes how each generational cohort is affected by world in which they live at the time of key stages in their life. The WLS cohort is on the cusp between The Silent and The Boomer – in a key transitional phase. What might be true for that particular cohort – at least in attitudes, values and priorities – may not apply to other cohorts at the same stage in life.
    Herd touched lightly on this phase shift when she talked about how it was a key transitional time for the rise of college education. Before the study, mostly only rich and privileged men went to college. After the study, college education became more ubiquitous and drew more middle class and females to college. Even though the original study was about higher education, it’s place at this juncture needs to be closely examined if the data is of be of value.
    It would have been most enlightening to replicate the original study in 2002-2004, when we are at the opposite end of the generational cohort cycle, so see what shifts with cohorts and what stays stable in the general population independent of the historic influences. Or even replicate it in 2020-2025 when the cohort alignment will be the same as the original study in 1957. It would be interesting to see what attitudes and values shift between generational cohorts, and test whether the Strauss-Howe theory aligns with the data.
    Yet another way to use WLS to study human interactions. Thank you for such an interesting and valuable data set, and for sharing it freely for the betterment of all.

  2. This week, we had the privilege of listening to Pam Herd talk about the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study and its relationship to the Wisconsin Idea. This talk was truly captivating, even beyond learning about the study’s use of fecal samples (although this may have been most interesting). Pam started her talk by introducing the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which included one third of graduating high school seniors in Wisconsin in 1957. Thus far, the Class of 1957 has contributed to the study on seven different time points. The breadth of questions and knowledge gained from this study seems to have no bounds, although its original intent was to expand knowledge about higher education and what influences individuals’ decision to attend/not attend further education beyond high school. The original Principal Investigator, Sewell, discovered that parental encouragement and socioeconomic status, along with encouragement, played large roles in participants’ decisions about education beyond high school.

    The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study has had three Principal Investigators over the 50+ years it has been in existence. The content in each survey has also changed over the years. From physical and cognitive assessments to saliva samples and, most recently, to fecal samples, this study has gathered a lot of data about many people in Wisconsin (original sample size being 10,317). The current focus on this study revolves around an emphasis on health in later life and end of life decisions. We saw the results of this portion of the study through the publishing of Deborah Carr’s book. We also see the data from this study in many other platforms, such as online magazines, journal articles, and blogs. How is this possible?

    The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study and its Principal Investigators embody the Wisconsin Idea through the choice to make the data of this study available to others outside of the University and around the world. This was a new concept when this study was in its infancy, and Sewell saw data as a public good. While this data remains confidential in terms of participant information, the insights made are shared throughout the world. Do you think (or know if) there was resistance from other members of the University when choosing to make the data of this study public? Do you think there are still many who would be unwilling to share this data elsewhere?

    This study also encourages collaboration among many fields. Sociology, psychology, microbiology, and immunology are just some of the fields that collaborate on the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. When Pam was asked about whether or not these collaborations were unique at the University, her answer was interesting. She stated that she believed this collaboration is present at other universities as well, but she believes researchers here at UW are more approachable and “excited” to engage in research among other disciplines. How have we been able to foster this collaborative environment among the University so that it is still present today? Perhaps you can think back to the debate society and remember how many students with different backgrounds came together to “solve” a particular problem.

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