Research Summary

The New Deal’s Lasting Impacts 

Did FDR’s New Deal legislation impact the American public in a positive way? New evidence from the WLS shows that at least part of the sweeping community investments had long-term benefits even for those who weren’t directly targeted.

The experience of WLS participants provides the first statistical evidence showing that children living in neighborhoods that had work relief programs funded by the New Deal did better in school and saw enduring positive impacts on their income in midlife and even brain health in later life.

Planting trees at the Arboretum. September 28, 1933. CCC workers stand by a truck filled with pine trees to be planted in the Arboretum. Madison, Wisconsin.
Planting trees at the Arboretum. September 28, 1933. CCC workers stand by a truck filled with pine trees to be planted in the Arboretum. Madison, Wisconsin.
Collage of Basketball Team, Women's Chorus, Student Librarians

High School Enrichment Improves Memory at Older Ages

Extracurricular activities in high school have long been recognized as an excellent way to skills, hobbies, and friendships.  It turns out they may also help improve cognition at oldest ages.

In a recent study, WLS researchers used 1957 high school senior yearbooks continue to look at the connection between high school activities and mental skills decades later. They found that participation in a wide range of enriching high school activities (musical ensembles, speech and debate, drama, student government, publications and occupational clubs, and honorary organizations, among others) was associated with better memory and flexible thinking at older ages.

This suggests that promoting enriching extracurricular activities for youth today may not only keep them engaged while they’re young – it can also put people on the path of better cognitive health over the long term.

The Long Reach of Living Near Lead Mines

It has long been known that lead in our pipes, paint, and gasoline is NOT good for health, and it’s especially bad for children’s physical and cognitive development.

New evidence from the WLS shows that the negative impacts of lead exposure don’t go away when children grow up. Researchers found that people who lived near lead mines as children in the 1940s saw greater memory declines at older ages.

The WLS is proving to be key resource for helping us understand the long-lasting impacts of our physical environments (beyond just our homes) on health at all ages.

Oval sticker with US Flag and "I Voted"

Health, Wealth, and Voting at Older Ages 

A new WLS study explores whether and how voting patterns change as people grow older. It turns out that WLS participants are avid voters: more than 80% have voted in any given election over the past two decades – a far higher proportion than the national average (60-70%, depending on the year) for those over the age of 60.

People’s commitment to voting does not decrease as they age, but health challenges – including both physical limitations and mental health issues like depression – do reduce voting turnout. Access to early and absentee voting options has helped WLS participants continue to vote even when they experience health challenges. The study found that those who are wealthier were more likely to switch to these alternative methods than people who are less wealthy.