Michal Engelman Named Director of Wisconsin Longitudinal Study

Congratulations to Michal Engelman, associate professor of sociology and CDHA’s associate training director, who was recently named director of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS).

With a background in demography, gerontology, and biostatistics, Engelman draws on theories and methods from both public health and the social sciences to study the social determinants of health in later life. Throughout her career, she has published extensively on the dynamics of population aging and health across the life course. In her research, she links individual health patterns with aggregate demographic trends within three lines of inquiry: (1) health and inequality across the life course; (2) global aging, migration, and health; and (3) the formal demography of longevity. Engelman also serves as co-PI, along with affiliate Kristen Malecki, of the project “Researching Epigenetics, Weathering, Aging & Residential Disadvantage (REWARD)” funded by an R01 grant from the National Institute on Aging. The project aims to determine how different dimensions of disadvantage shape health disparities through epigenetic mechanisms.

Plans for the Future

With a wide range of expertise, Engelman is positioned to take the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study in new and exciting directions. The WLS, one of the most comprehensive and longest running social science cohort studies in the U.S., has tracked the health, well-being, and economic attainment of 10,000 Wisconsinites who graduated high school in 1957.

In the coming years, the WLS will continue its hallmark tradition of research linking information collected from respondents across the life course. With participants now in their 80s, Engelman plans to continue collecting and sharing data that will help researchers understand how a range of experiences in early life and midlife influence the physical, mental, and cognitive health, well-being, and other outcomes that matter most to people as they grow older.

As director, a major goal for Engelman is to expand the WLS to include more Wisconsin residents from populations that have not previously been fully visible in the study. According to Engelman, researchers who use the WLS have not been able to explore racial/ethnic diversity in experiences of aging because there are not enough people in the study who identify in ways that allow for statistical comparisons of similarities and differences across racial and ethnic groups.

Over time, Engelman plans to grow the WLS sample by building partnerships with researchers at UW and community-based organizations serving older adults to recruit additional respondents from Wisconsin’s Black, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities. The combined sample of 1957 graduates, siblings, and this new cohort of peers will enable researchers to learn more about aging among diverse groups of people who all—at some point in their lives—called Wisconsin home.