Young Adults’ Income Slump May Hike Risk of Middle-Aged Cognitive Issues

A new study suggests that experiencing an annual income drop of 25 percent or more during young adulthood may increase the risk of developing thinking problems and reduced brain health in middle age.

“Income volatility is at a record level since the early 1980s and there is growing evidence that it may have pervasive effects on health,” said study senior author Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

“Our study followed participants in the United States over 30 years, including the recession time in the late 2000s when many people experienced financial instability. Our results provide evidence that higher income volatility during peak earning years are associated with worse brain aging in middle age.”

The study, which appears online in Neurology®, involved 3,287 people who were 23 to 35 years old at the start of the study. Participants were enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which includes a racially diverse population.

Study members reported their annual pre-tax household income every three to five years for 20 years, from 1990 to 2010.

Researchers examined how often income dropped as well as the percentage of change in income between 1990 and 2010 for each participant. Based on the number of income drops, participants fell into three groups: 1,780 people who did not have an income drop; 1,108 who had one drop of 25 percent or more from the previous reported income; and 399 people who had two or more such drops.

Participants were given thinking and memory tests that measured how well they completed tasks and how much time it took to complete them. For one test, participants used a key that paired numbers 1 to 9 with symbols. They were then given a list of numbers and had to write down the corresponding symbols.

Researchers found that people with two or more income drops had worse performances in completing tasks than people with no income drops. On average, they scored worse by 3.74 points or 2.8 percent.

“For reference, this poor performance is greater than what is normally seen due to one year in aging, which is equivalent to scoring worse by only 0.71 points on average or 0.53 percent,” said first author Leslie Grasset, Ph.D., of the Inserm Research Center in Bordeaux, France.

Participants with more income drops also scored worse on how much time it took to complete some tasks.

The results were the same after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect thinking skills, such as high blood pressure, education level, physical activity and smoking.

There was no difference between the groups on tests that measured verbal memory.

Of the study group, 707 participants also had brain scans with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the beginning of the study and 20 years later to measure their total brain volume as well as the volumes of various areas of the brain.

Researchers found when compared to people with no income drops, people with two or more income drops had smaller total brain volume. People with one or more income drops also had reduced connectivity in the brain, meaning there were fewer connections between different areas of the brain.

According to the researchers, there may be several explanations as to why an unstable income may have an influence on brain health. Potential influences may include that people with a lower or unstable income could have reduced access to high quality health care. This could result in worse management of diseases like diabetes, or management of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and drinking.

While the study does not prove that drops in income cause reduced brain health, it does reinforce the need for additional studies examining the role that social and financial factors play in brain aging.

Source: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health/EurekAlert

European Study: Changing Roles & Family-Friendly Policies Make For Happier Parents

New research from the University of Zurich (UZH) finds that mothers and fathers today are happier with their lives than parents were 20 or 30 years ago, thanks mainly to evolving roles.

Greater freedom of choice and the increased equality of mothers and fathers have been supported as well by government and employer policies for families.

According to researchers, motherhood is no longer seen as an obligatory part of female identity and fulfillment. It is no longer automatically expected that mothers will give up paid work, and it is becoming increasingly normal for fathers to have a more active role in raising and caring for children.

Researchers from the UZH along with sociologists from Germany investigated how these new societal expectations altered the life satisfaction of mothers and fathers. For their empirical work, investigators evaluated information garnered from a long-term study of individuals living in Germany.

The database provides information on more than 18,000 women and almost 12,000 men who were surveyed between 1984 and 2015. “While in the last few years the prevailing message in the media is that modern parents are under great stress or even regret having become parents, our analysis shows the opposite,” said first author Dr. Klaus Preisner from the UZH Institute of Sociology.

In surveys in the 1980s, most mothers were less satisfied with their lives than women without children. The idea of having a “little bundle of joy” that would bring great happiness — which stemmed in part from the taboo against speaking negatively of motherhood in any way — did not translate to reality for many women.

“With the increasing freedom to choose whether or not to have a child and to shape parenthood more individually, the ‘maternal happiness gap’ has closed. Today we no longer find a difference in the life satisfaction of mothers and of women without children,” Preisner said.

Researchers discovered the picture is different for men: In the past, in contrast to women, men were not expected to take an active role in childcare, to take parental leave or to reduce their working hours after having children.

Although that situation is different today, the life satisfaction of men has barely changed as a result. What’s more, there is no difference in life satisfaction between fathers and men without children.

“Fathers who step up to meet the new expectations placed on them are increasingly rewarded with public praise for their commitment,” said Preisner.

Alongside changed normative expectations in Germany, new political measures have been introduced, such as support for parental leave after the birth of a child and childcare for small children outside the family.

On the one hand, such changes mean mothers and fathers can choose more freely how they want to arrange their family lives with regard to childcare. On the other, the roles and responsibilities are more equally distributed between mothers and fathers nowadays. Both these aspects have a positive effect on parents’ life satisfaction.

Researchers report that the greater freedom of choice and the increased equality of mothers’ and fathers’ roles has been encouraged — and in some cases even made possible at all — by modern policies for families.

Parental leave enables mothers and fathers to share childcare responsibilities and to be involved in their children’s upbringing. In addition, subsidized childcare outside the home, such as that in Germany, also makes it easier for families to combine parenthood and employment.

Preisner also sees another advantage: “These family-friendly political measures are not only significant for equality between the sexes. They are just as important for their role in improving life satisfaction of parents, and thus ultimately of children.”

Source: University of Zurich

New Study Shows Impact of Pay, Schedule Flexibility, and Job Security on Mental and Physical Health

A person’s overall pattern of employment, including pay, hours, schedule flexibility and job security, influence mental and physical health as well as the risk of being injured on the job, according to new research.

“This research is part of a growing body of evidence that the work people do — and the way it is organized and paid for — is fundamental to producing not only wealth, but health,” said senior author Noah Seixas, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington.

According to researchers, technology and other forces are changing the nature of work. The traditional model of ongoing, full-time employment with regular hours and job security is giving way to gig-economy jobs, short-term contracts, nonstandard work hours, and flexible employer-worker relationships.

Current models for understanding this work are too simplistic, according to first author Trevor Peckham, a UW doctoral student in environmental and occupational health sciences. Studies of a single aspect of employment may not capture important elements of jobs that influence health, he noted.

“Employment relationships are complex,” he said. “They determine everything from how much you get paid, to how much control you have over your work schedule, your opportunities for advancement, and how much protection you have against adverse working conditions, like harassment.”

For the study, the researchers used data from the General Social Survey collected between 2002 to 2014 to create a multidimensional measure of how self-reported health, mental health, and occupational injury were associated with the quality of employment among approximately 6,000 US adults.

“There are many different forms of employment in the modern economy,” Peckham said. “Our study suggests that it is the different combinations of employment characteristics, which workers experience together as a package, that is important for their health.”

Findings include:

  • People employed in “dead-end” jobs — for example, manufacturing assembly line workers who are often well-paid and unionized but with little empowerment or opportunity — and “precarious” job holders — janitors or retail workers who work on short-term contracts and struggle to get full-time hours — were more likely to report poor general and mental health, as well as occupational injury compared to people with more traditional forms of employment.
  • “Inflexible skilled” workers, such as physicians and military personnel, who have generally high-quality jobs but with long, inflexible hours, and “job-to-job” workers, such as Uber drivers, gig workers or the self-employed doing odd jobs, had worse mental health and increased injury experience compared to those with standard employment.

One of the most surprising findings, according to the researchers, was for “optimistic precarious” job holders, which includes service-sector workers with high empowerment, such as florists. The researchers found these workers had similar health to those in standard employment, despite having jobs characterized by insecurity, low pay, and irregular hours. However, these workers report high control over their schedules, opportunities to develop, and involvement in decision-making.

“Our research has direct implications for policy,” said co-author Anjum Hajat, a UW assistant professor of epidemiology. “As we have seen at the local level, Seattle City Council has been actively promoting policy solutions to improve workers’ lives.”

Those solutions include the secure scheduling ordinance, minimum wage, and family leave policies. These approaches show “the interest and appetite for change,” she said.

Researchers and policymakers must continue the dialogue with employers “to demonstrate the benefits of increased worker security and stability on employee turnover, productivity and, ultimately, their bottom line,” she said.

“Using policy and legal levers to influence how people are hired and treated at work can have profound effects on improving the health of workers and their communities,” Seixas added.

The study was published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

Source: University of Washington

Early Career Failure Can Breed More Long-Term Success If You Don’t Give Up

A new study has established a link between early career failure and future success, essentially confirming German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s adage that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.”

A research team from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management analyzed the relationship between professional failure and success for young scientists. They discovered, in contrast to their initial expectations, that failure early in one’s career leads to greater success in the long term for those who try again.

“The attrition rate does increase for those who fail early in their careers,” lead author Yang Wang said. “But those who stick it out, on average, perform much better in the long term, suggesting that if it doesn’t kill you, it really does make you stronger.”

The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, provide a counter-narrative to the Matthew Effect, which posits a “rich get richer” theory that success begets more success.

“It turns out that, historically, while we have been relatively successful in pinpointing the benefits of success, we have failed to understand the impact of failure,” said Dr. Dashun Wang, corresponding author and associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg.

For the study, the team analyzed the records of scientists who, early in their careers, applied for R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1990 and 2005. They utilized the NIH’s evaluation scores to separate individuals into two groups: (1) the “near-misses” whose scores were just below the threshold that received funding and (2) the “just-made-its” whose scores were just above that threshold.

The researchers then looked at how many papers each group published, on average, over the next 10 years and how many of those papers turned out to be hits, as determined by the number of citations those papers received.

They discovered that the scientists in the near-miss group received less funding, but published just as many papers, and more hit papers, than those in the just-made-it group.

In fact, individuals in the near-miss funding group were 6.1% more likely to publish a hit paper over the next 10 years compared to scientists in the just-made-it group.

“The fact that the near-miss group published more hit papers than the just-made-it group is even more surprising when you consider that the just-made-it group received money to further their work, while the near-miss group did not,” said Dr. Benjamin Jones, study co-author and the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship at Kellogg.

The researchers considered whether the effect could be attributed to a “weed-out” phenomenon; that the early-career failure caused some scientists in the near-miss group to exit the field, leaving only the most-determined members.

Further analysis revealed that while the attrition rate after failure was 10 percent higher for the near-miss group, that alone could not account for the greater success later in their careers.

After looking at a number of other possible explanations for the long-term success of the near-miss group, the team could not find any supporting evidence for any of their hypotheses, suggesting other unobservable factors, such as grit or lessons learned, might be at play.

Finally, the findings do not contradict the Matthew Effect, but rather suggest a complementary path for those who fail.

“There is value in failure,” Wang said. “We have just begun expanding this research into a broader domain and are seeing promising signals of similar effects in other fields.”

Source: Northwestern University

Serious Mental Illness at Young Age Can Have Lasting Impact on Future Employment

A new study has found that people who have been hospitalized due to a mental disorder before the age of 25 have considerably poorer prospects of finding a job, as well as poor education and low income.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki found that the employment rate was the lowest among individuals who were hospitalized for schizophrenia. Less than 10 percent were employed during the follow-up period of the study, researchers reported.

Additionally, less than half of the individuals hospitalized for mood disorders worked after the age of 25.

The earnings of people with serious mental disorders in their youth were quite low and did not improve later, the study found. More than half had no earnings over the follow-up period.

The study involved more than 2 million individuals living in Finland between 1988 and 2015, who were monitored between the ages of 25 and 52.

“People suffering from mental disorders drop out from the labor market for a wide range of reasons,” said Dr. Christian Hakulinen, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Helsinki. “However, opportunities for contributing to professional life and acquiring an education should already be taken into consideration at the early stages of treating serious mental disorders, provided the patient’s condition allows it.”

The study was published in the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica journal.

Source: University of Helsinki

Mental Health Intervention Reduces Burnout, Stress in Trauma Social Workers

A new study finds that a mental health intervention for social service workers called Caregivers Journey of Hope can help relieve the stress, trauma and burnout social workers may be experiencing while helping residents heal from a community disaster.

The findings are published in Traumatology: An International Journal.

There’s a significant need for mental health interventions for social service workers, who are at high risk of burnout, chronic stress and emotional distress in disaster recovery, said the study’s co-authors, University of Illinois social work professors Tara Powell and Kate M. Wegmann.

“Since many people in helping professions may be trying to rebuild their own lives while helping traumatized people in the community, providing these workers with the training and tools to practice physical, emotional and social self-care is critical to helping them reduce their own stress and avert burnout,” said Powell, who led the study.

For the study, the researchers looked at the impact that the Caregivers Journey of Hope workshop had on 722 professionals who assisted victims of Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey.

Sandy ravaged the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean during October 2012, killing more than 200 people and causing more than $70 billion in damage.

New York and New Jersey were among the hardest-hit places on the U.S. mainland: 87 people died and more than 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to the study.

Powell co-developed the Caregivers Journey of Hope curriculum while working for Save the Children. The program was designed to bolster the resilience of social workers, teachers and children in New Orleans and reduce emotional distress they experienced as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Recovery from disasters often takes years, note the researchers. Working closely with traumatized people and vicariously experiencing their terror and pain can adversely affect the mental health of counselors and social workers.

In turn, this distress can trigger a host of emotional, behavioral, physical and interpersonal problems, negatively affecting caregivers’ job performance and personal lives, according to the study.

Receiving social support can be very important for counselors because the often-confidential nature of their work prevents them from discussing traumatizing or stressful experiences outside the workplace, the researchers wrote.

“The half-day Caregivers Journey of Hope workshop gives front-line care providers an opportunity to process disaster-related stress in a safe, confidential environment, build social support and develop strategies to cope with stressors in the workplace and at home,” Powell said.

“A wealth of research over the past couple of decades has illustrated that higher levels of stress are associated with lower levels of social support.”

Working in small groups, workshop participants share their experiences; explore the types, sources and effects of stress; and develop solutions, such as ways they can build their social support networks. They also talk about strategies for rebuilding their communities and for enhancing individual and community-level recovery.

The researchers tested the intervention with social workers and counselors from 37 agencies in New York and New Jersey after Sandy.

Participants reported significant reductions in their stress levels and showed major improvements on all of the other measures surveyed.

Social service workers who were newest on the job — those with one to four years’ experience — benefited the most, showing the greatest increases in their ability to recognize the signs and effects of stress and in their perceived ability to cope with mentally draining situations.

“This finding is of particular importance, as those with less experience in the social service field are at a higher risk for experiencing various forms of caregiver distress,” Wegmann said. “Research has shown that those who perceive that they can actively cope with stressors or who have higher coping self-efficacy tend to have better health and mental health outcomes.”

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New Bureau