Healthy aging isnʼt just about managing chronic disease. (Photography by Robert Kozloff)

Faculty research

Aging gracefully

Mental health, mobility, and sensory function are important and overlooked indicators of healthy aging, according to new research by Martha McClintock, the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology; William Dale, AM’94, PhD’97, MD’99, associate professor and section chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine; Edward O. Naumann, the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology; and Linda Waite, the Lucy Flower Professor in Sociology, published in the May 31Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A study of 3,005 individuals ages 57–85 found that focusing on ailments like cancer, heart disease, and obesity may not be the best way to predict mortality in older adults, while poor mobility and mental health are more important than previously acknowledged. The study highlights the value of looking at health comprehensively, according to the researchers. “A shift of attention is needed from disease-focused management ... to overall well-being,” Dale said.

Bumper crop

Drought and increased global temperature caused by climate change are major threats to food security. But higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—a key driver of global warming—may actually benefit crop efficiency, according to new research by Joshua Elliott of the UChicago Computation Institute published online in Nature Climate Change on April 8.

To analyze the effect of climate change on crops, the team used a computer model that incorporated predictions about future temperature and atmospheric CO2 levels, as well as data from real-world studies of CO2’s influence on crop production. Such studies have shown that increased CO2 enhances photosynthesis and leads to higher crop water productivity, the ratio of crop yield to water use. By 2080, the computer model found, elevated CO2will improve water efficiency for key crops such as wheat, maize, rice, and soybeans, offsetting some crop losses due to increased temperature.

In the family

In the midst of the Great Recession, lenders saw family-owned businesses as safe investments. As a result, interest rates were more favorable for family companies, according to a Fama-Miller Center for Research in Finance working paper coauthored by Margarita Tsoutsoura, associate professor of finance and Charles E. Merrill Scholar at Chicago Booth.

The study examined syndicated loans, or loans made to a single borrower by multiple investors, in the years surrounding the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. The researchers discovered that family firms had significantly lower borrowing costs than non-family firms as they sought new investment in the turbulent aftermath of Lehman’s collapse. In some cases, the creditors even required the family to maintain ownership or voting power as a condition of the loans. “Creditors value the presence of the family,” the authors write.

Primping pays

For women, grooming practices such as applying makeup can boost earnings, write UChicago sociology graduate student Jaclyn Wong, AM’13, and Andrew Penner, AB’01, of the University of California, Irvine, in June’s Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Wong and Penner found that people rated as attractive in a face-to-face interview earn more than people of average attractiveness but that grooming reduces this pay gap significantly, especially for women. In addition, being poorly groomed is penalized more than being unattractive.

The findings, based on a study of 14,600 adults, demonstrate that “being attractive is not enough; it is doing attractiveness appropriately that … gets rewarded in the labor market.”