TIME youth

Why Young People Don’t Want to Run For Office

TIME speaks with Jennifer Lawless, whose research on young Americans' political ambition is revealed in a new book

Will American politics face a brain drain? If current trends continue, it could soon.

Political science professors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox asked more than 4,000 high school and college students if they would be interested in running for political office in America someday: 89% of them said “no.”

That finding is the crux of a new book based on their original research, Running From Office. In it, the authors argue that the dysfunction of Washington has turned the next generation off politics in historic fashion. Unless behaviors change, American University’s Lawless says, the country’s brightest stars are going to pursue just about anything but one of the 500,000 elected offices America needs filled each year.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of TIME’s interview with Lawless, in which she explains who’s to blame, what’s to be done and why she earnestly believes parents should be convincing their kids to become politicians.

It’s an old, old thing to lament the youth’s lack of interest in politics and a rancorous political climate. What is happening here that is new?

There are two dynamics. The first is that lamenting young people’s engagement has previously always stopped at their interest or their participation. [Researchers have] never actually considered whether they’re interested in running for office. The other is the young people that we’ve surveyed, who are high school and college students now, have grown up only amid the dysfunction that currently characterizes the political system. They have known nothing else. And this is really the first generation where that’s the case.

But is this a historic brand of dysfunction?

We know that polarization is stronger now than it’s been and it’s continued to increase. We know that effectiveness—if we measure that in legislative productivity—has been lower in the last several Congresses. And look at some of the high-profile examples of dysfunction that we’re not accustomed to seeing. The government shutdown is the most obvious one. Debates over raising the debt ceiling. The U.S. having its credit rating decreased. The constant worry over the course of the last year that there might be another government shutdown. That’s new to this generation. We saw dysfunction but not at the same level in the 1980s and 1990s.

Why do you think researchers haven’t looked at political ambition before?

I think there is this disconnect. Until we started doing the research, I didn’t know that the careers that young people identify as something they might be interested in during their teens often map onto what they’re going to do later in life … There was probably this sense that, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. Young people are disengaged. They’re tuned out. When politics matters to them, they’ll care more.’ But what our data suggests that if they’re already writing this off now, there’s nothing to suggest that it’s going to come back onto their radar screen.

Do we have numbers from previous generations to compare the 89% statistic to?

We don’t know because polls of young people in previous generations generally don’t exist. We do, though, have data over time on young people’s interest in politics, whether they talk about politics with their families, whether they are talking about politics with their friends and whether they follow political news. We found that all of those things are predictors of whether you’re running for office. And the over-time data show declines on all of those indicators. Depending how you examine them, we see declines of 20% or 30%.

How long is this list of who or what is to blame for young people’s antipathy or apathy toward being in politics?

We’re not necessarily blaming young people. It’s that they live in an environment where they’re not particularly interested in politics because they find it argumentative and dysfunctional. But their parents agree. And their teachers agree. And the news media agree. So they get these constant reinforcing messages that this is not something that is fun or interesting or important or noble … The [other] set of players are the politicians themselves. They behave increasingly in unappealing ways and in ways that suggest that they’re not effective at their jobs.

Why should parents and teachers be pitching kids on politics when that’s not necessarily a message they believe in?

We think that letting young people know that this is a way that they can effect change—and that politics does not have to be the way they perceive it—is a message we want to send. At the end of the day, legislation is passed and policies are made by the government. And if you don’t have a seat at that table, even if you are highly effective in a behind-the-scenes kind of capacity, you’re not living up to the full potential of options you have. If people choose not to do that, that’s fine. But 13 to 17-year olds should not be writing that off as a future career option … If we had heard that 89% of young people said that under no circumstances would they ever become a lawyer or a doctor or a journalist or a teacher, there would probably be a national outcry.

What happens if kids don’t change their minds?

We have more than 500,000 elected offices in this country. … We’re not concerned that no one will run for them. We’re concerned that the candidates will be the type of people who aren’t interested in bringing about a better system.

What kind of people will still be attracted to political races, if not the best candidates?

The kind of people who are currently in office. People that actually do not think that government is a way to bring about positive change, people who are more interested in their own power than public policy, people that are antagonistic and confrontational and value partisanship over output.

When you’re talking to that jaded 16-year-old, how do you pitch them on this?

The first thing is to ask them what matters to them, and in almost every case what is most important to a high school student or a college student can be linked to a specific political issue. For high school students, it might be that they’re worried about whether they’re going to be able to afford college. For college students, it might be whether they’re worried about moving into their parents’ house when they graduate. For young women, it could be that they don’t have access to contraception.

So what should be done to remedy that situation?

We have a series of recommendations. One is linking political aptitude to the college admissions process, so people have to know something about current events and politics if they want to go to college. Another suggestion we have is some kind of national service program that would value political service. We’ve seen large programs like the Peace Corps, like Americorps, like Teach for America, where we have created incentives for young people to go out and improve communities. There’s no similar program for political service, which could create an incentive for young people to get involved in their communities as elected leaders.

How optimistic are you feeling right now about all the gridlock and bickering and disenchantment improving?

It’s funny because I’m an eternal pessimist but on this front, I believe in government. A lot. Maybe this is a little idealistic, but I think as people begin to realize that there are long term consequences to the dysfunction that we’re experiencing—that we might be turning off an entire generation or even discouraging adults right now who are well-qualified to run and lead—they’ll see there are opportunities for change.

TIME Research

Suicide Rate Is Up Among Young Black Children

New study reveals racial disparities in suicide rates among young children

While the suicide rate among young children has remained relatively stable, a new study shows that the number of black kids between the ages of 5 and 11 who commit suicide has almost doubled since 1993.

The research, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, shows that from 1993 to 2012, there were a total of 657 kids in the age group who killed themselves in the U.S.; 84% were boys and 16% were girls. Overall, the suicide rate was stable over the nearly 20-year period, yet the rate among black children significantly rose while the rate among white children dropped. Why black children were more likely to die by their own hand could not be determined in this study. The researchers say that the apparent racial disparity needs further investigation.

Study author Jeffrey Bridge, an epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told the New York Times that he was “shocked” by the results.

The findings are troubling, and the authors note in the study that historically, the rates of suicide among black children has been lower than the rate among white children. Suicide previously ranked as the 14th cause of death among black children ages 5 to 11 from 1993 to 1997, but it went up to the ninth cause of death in 2008 to 2012. For comparison, among white children, suicide was ranked as the 12th cause of death for the age group from 1993 to 1997 but it dropped to the 11th cause of death from 2008 to 2012.

“Although rates of suicide in adolescents aged 12 to 19 years are roughly 50 times higher than suicide rates in children aged 5 to 11 years, investment in upstream suicide prevention approaches that occur prior to the onset of suicidal behavior may have strong potential to reduce youth suicide rates,” the study authors write.

The researchers call for more studies to understand the trend, and to hopefully determine what interventions might be necessary.

TIME Obesity

More Than a Third of U.S. Adults Have Metabolic Syndrome

TIME.com stock photos Weight Loss Health Exercise Scale
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

35% of us are at greater risk for all kinds of diseases

Metabolic syndrome—a set of health conditions including high blood pressure and too much abdominal fat that increase risk for stroke and heart disease—now affects more than one in three U.S. adults, according to a new study in JAMA.

The study, which used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the U.S. increased from 32.9% in 2003-2004 to 34.7% in 2011-2012. It stayed steady between 2007-2008 and 2011-2012—a leveling off likely due to increased awareness about the risks of metabolic syndrome, the researchers write. Obesity prevalence, which is closely linked to the condition, has also stabilized, they note.

The prevalence of metabolic syndrome varied between people of different racial backgrounds. Hispanics had the highest prevalence of metabolic syndrome at 39%, followed by whites at 37.4% and blacks at 35.5%.

TIME Research

Why Moms Are Better at Baby Talk Than Dads

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Do dads baby talk to their little ones? Researchers recorded hours of audio of parents interacting with their toddlers to find out

Most mothers do it without thinking: cooing to their young children in a sing-songy, high pitched way that seems to help them connect better with their youngsters. But do fathers who spend time with their toddlers do the same?

MORE: Who’s Better at Baby Talk, Mom or Dad?

Mark VanDam, a professor in speech and hearing sciences at Washington State University, wanted to find out in his new study presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. While previous studies have looked at how moms and dads interact with their preschoolers, most of these have been in the rather artificial setting of a lab. So researchers led by VanDam strapped recording devices on both parents and their toddlers for an entire day in order to hear what parents were really saying to their children—and how they were saying it—in a more natural setting.

They found that mothers do indeed adopt “motherese” when addressing their preschoolers, but fathers did not—even those who spent more time with their children. In fact, the fathers talked to their young children in the same way they conversed with adults.

MORE: How to Improve a Baby’s Language Skills Before They Start to Talk

That may be because mothers vary their intonation more and tend to speak in a more infantile way in order to bond better with their toddlers, according to a theory proposed in the 1970s. Mothers are supposed to teach their children how to connect on a more intimate level, and speaking in a more melodic way introduces children to this way of communicating, the theory goes. Fathers, on the other hand, are the bridge for preschoolers to the outside world, and fathers’ more varied vocabulary and adult intonations help to familiarize them with this way of connecting with others. “The basic idea is that moms provide the link to the domestic, more intimate type of talk, while dads provide the link to the outside world,” says VanDam. “In that sense, moms and dads provide different kinds of experiences that give kids more comprehensive exposure to what kinds of language they need in the real world.”

In his present study, both parents lived full time with the child, and in some families, mothers worked outside of the home. VanDam is hoping to extend the study to look at single-parent families, as well as same-sex households, to see if the gender-specific ways of interacting with toddlers stay the same.

TIME Research

Preschoolers Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise, Study Says

Plenty of exercise is essential for a child's development and to prevent obesity

Even very young children in the U.S. are not active enough, says a new study.

Preschoolers only get about 48 minutes of exercise on average each day, according to a paper by the University of Washington and published in the journal Pediatrics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends kids get at least one hour of daily physical activity.

After documenting children’s daily activities in 10 preschools in the Seattle area over a period of 50 days, researchers found that they were only exercising 12% of the time. The rest of their day was spent napping (29%), eating or generally being inactive.

On average, the children were outside for just more than half an hour a day, the study found.

“It’s just not enough,” Pooja Tandon, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Washington, told USA Today.

Getting plenty of exercise at a young age, she said, was essential for a child’s development and for preventing obesity, which has risen dramatically over the past 30 years. According to the CDC, nearly 18% of children ages six to 11 are obese, compared to 7% in 1980.

To get kids more active, some health experts advocate combining academic activities in the classroom with exercise.

Debbie Chang, vice president of Nemours Children’s Health System in Delaware, says even reading a book, such as The Wheels on the Bus, can become part of a child’s daily exercise as they can get up and moving by acting out the scenes.

[USA Today]

TIME Research

Too Much Salt May Delay the Onset of Puberty, Suggests Study

Think twice before allowing kids unlimited access to salty condiments

Consuming too much sodium may stunt the commencement of puberty in humans, leading to reduced fertility and higher stress levels in affected individuals.

A new study published by researchers from the University of Wyoming found that rats that consumed a sodium-rich diet had a “significant delay in reaching puberty” compared to fellow rodents that imbibed normal levels of salt, reports Science Daily.

“Current salt-loading in Western populations has the potential to drastically affect reproductive health, and warrants further attention,” said Dori Pitynski from the University of Wyoming.

But don’t give up on salt completely, researchers claim. According to the study, too little sodium may also delay the onset of puberty as well.

The World Health Organization says adults should “consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium, or 5 grams of salt” daily, according to revised guidelines published in 2013.

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

4 Weird Health Effects of E-Cigarettes

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Banana pudding-flavored ecigs disturbed the lungs, one study found

E-cigarette research is heating up, and scientists are starting to show that using e-cigarettes can have some surprising health effects, according to new findings presented at the meeting of the American Thoracic Society.

“Millions of people around the world that are puffing e-cigs,” says Peter Dicpinigaitis, professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and one of the authors of new e-cigarette research, “but when you look at the scientific literature about the effects of e-cigs, there’s nothing out there.”

Here are some of the newest findings:

Using e-cigarettes suppresses your ability to cough

Smoking an e-cigarette makes you less likely to cough, even when coughing would benefit your health, according to research by Dicpinigaitis. Researchers asked 30 nonsmokers to puff an e-cigarette 30 times in a 15-minute period. After puffing, people in the study were less sensitive to capsaicin, a component of chili peppers that induces coughing. You might think stopping a cough would be a positive side effect, but coughing keeps you from choking and removes agents that may cause infection, says Dicpinigaitis. He presumes that those the effects would continue throughout the day for someone who uses an e-cigarette frequently.

E-cigarette temperature may affect how many chemicals you’re exposed to

People tend to think about the effects of cigarette smoke or e-cigarette vapor when they consider how the products harm their health. But the mechanics of e-cigarettes may also contribute to how much smoking harms your health, according to new research from University of Alabama School of Medicine professor Daniel Sullivan. His research found a correlation between coil temperature and the creation of harmful chemicals like acrolein, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde in the e-cigarette. There are no configuration standards for e-cigarettes, and Sullivan’s research suggests that the lack of consistency makes it hard to assess uniformly the health effects of smoking e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette flavors may have different effects

Researchers tested the effects of flavored e-cigarette liquid on calcium in the lungs and found that not all flavors had the same effect. Five of 13 flavors tested caused changes to calcium signaling in the lungs, according to a study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher Temperance Rowell. Hot cinnamon candies, banana pudding and menthol tobacco were among the flavors that disturbed the lungs.

Evidence is growing that e-cigarettes probably aren’t an effective way to quit smoking

E-cigarettes are a popular tool people use to stop smoking, but they may not be the best way, suggests one research review. Using e-cigarettes improved the likelihood that a smoker would quit smoking cigarettes for the first month on the new technology, but the effect dissipated at 3 and 6-month followups, according to a meta-analysis of four studies by University of Toronto researcher Riyad al-Lehebi. He recommended that people who want to quit smoking consider “other more well-established options.”

TIME Research

The Connection Between Peanut Allergies and Asthma

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New study suggests benefit from testing kids with asthma for peanut allergies

A new study suggests that kids with asthma may have a peanut allergy, or be sensitive to peanuts, and not know it.

Dr. Robert Cohn, medical director of Pulmonary Medicine at Dayton Children’s Hospital and his team studied 1,517 children who went to a pulmonary clinic at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, for respiratory problems and left with a confirmed diagnosis of asthma. Interestingly, among these children, about 11% knew they had a peanut allergy. Many of the children in the study came back to the clinic and had a blood test to screen them for peanut allergies, and of that group, 22% tested positive.

The researchers then found that more than half of the 22% of kids who came back positive did not suspect that they had any allergy or sensitivity to peanuts, suggesting it may be something that those who work with children with asthma may want to be more cognizant of.

“I don’t think children with peanut allergies would be misdiagnosed with asthma. It is most likely the other way around. Children with asthma might not be recognized as having a peanut sensitivity,” says Cohn in an email to TIME. “Parents of children with asthma should understand that there may be asthma medicines that are not advised in children with peanut allergies.”

Cohn says that since allergies can act as a trigger for an allergy attack, it may be useful for a child to be screened for peanut sensitivity if they have been diagnosed with asthma, especially if they have an uncontrolled cough or wheezing.

The study will be presented Sunday at the ATS 2015 International Conference.

TIME Research

New Study Explains Why People Saw ‘The Dress’ Differently

Shop manager Debbie Armstrong adjusts a two tone Roman Originals dress in a window display at a Roman Originals shop in Lichfield, England on Feb. 27, 2015.
Rui Vieira—AP Shop manager Debbie Armstrong adjusts a two tone Roman Originals dress in a window display at a Roman Originals shop in Lichfield, England on Feb. 27, 2015.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely heard about the “The Dress” (if you don’t know what The Dress is, read this). It puzzled some researchers too, but now a team of scientists have published a new study shedding light on the phenomenon.

In a small study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from Giessen University and University of Bradford learned that people vary when it comes to color perception, and this is largely due to differences in how people perceive light. What was possibly throwing people off was the lighting in the photo. In general, daylight lighting can look blueish around mid afternoon and it can look yellowish in the morning or later in the evening. Normally, people use reference points and surrounding context to perceive colors and they unknowingly will filter out the blue or yellow-hued lighting.

However, the photo of the dress had no reference points. There were no red or green colors, for example. Therefore, people looking at the dress were not able to filter out the lighting that was influencing their perception of the color. “The perceived hue in one of the groups of observers is related to the fact that a white dress was exposed to cool bluish light,” study author Karl Gegenfurtner, a professor in the department of psychology at Geissen University in a statement. “Just as well it could be a blue dress which was overexposed by warm light.”

In their study, the researchers also noted that even among people who saw the dress one way or the other, they were not necessarily seeing the dress in exactly the same way. While they generally agree, some may see the dress colors on a spectrum that ranges from very light blue to dark blue and from yellow to brown. To discover this, the researchers showed volunteers the photo and then had them separately adjust colors to match what colors they saw in the photo.

TIME Germany

102-Year-Old Who Fled Nazis to Become Oldest Doctorate Recipient

German pediatrician Ingeborg Rapoport, 97, speaks during an interview in her house in Berlin
Thomas Peter—Reuters German pediatrician Ingeborg Rapoport, 97, speaks during an interview in her house in Berlin on July 3, 2009.

Ingeborg Rapoport was refused an opportunity to defend her thesis in Nazi Germany.

A 102-year-old retired neonatologist successfully defended her doctoral thesis on Wednesday, 77 years after the Nazi regime denied her the opportunity.

Ingeborg Rapoport will become the oldest person to receive a doctoral degree at a ceremony at the University of Hamburg next month, the Wall Street Journal reports. Her thesis, which she submitted in 1938, focused on diphtheria, an infectious disease that was the leading cause of death among children in Europe at the time.

Rapoport was raised a Protestant but her mother was Jewish, leading officials at the time to deem her ineligible for academic advancement. She emigrated to the United States in 1938 and eventually received an M.D. from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

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