Mortarboards off to the Wisconsin high school Class of 1957! Thousands of graduates from across the state have participated throughout their lives in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, filling out questionnaires and giving interviews. These proto-boomers, born mostly in 1939, have provided extensive insight into (take a deep breath), “the life course, intergenerational transfers and relationships, family functioning, physical and mental health and well-being, morbidity and mortality . . . . social background, youthful aspirations, schooling, military service, labor market experiences, family characteristics and events, social participation, psychological characteristics and retirement.”
Initial surveys undertaken by the University of Wisconsin to prepare for the boomer generation languished for five years in a basement. In 1962, astute sociologist William Sewell recognized the potential treasure trove of student data and followed up by phone and postcard. The life outcomes for the student cohort and their family members have been studied right up to the present.
What did the researchers find over the years? Interviews with the graduates, their spouses and family members in this highly successful and respected study shows that “so much of everything that happened to these people later in their lives really depended on whether they went to college after high school.” Most of them stayed put in Wisconsin, enjoyed long, happy marriages, parented two or more children, and maintained productive work lives. Men earned significantly more than women, on average, and virtually all had access to health insurance coverage. They consume alcohol a bit more than the national average, and tend to be overweight, but are enjoying generally good health. They have lived active lives and many have volunteered in their communities, most frequently with faith-based or political organizations. A drawback? They are a fairly homogenous sample – mostly white high-school graduates of European ancestry, with only a few persons of African-American, Hispanic, or Asian background included.
Investigators have been impressed with the willingness of the graduates to participate in this decades-long study. “A lot of people in the study understand what they’re doing is contributing to something bigger,” Pam Herd, a co-principal investigator states. “This will help out future generations,” confirms Gregory Schill, Madison East High School Class of ’57.
Image Credit: University of Wisconsin