A psychiatry professor at the Harvard Medical School, Waldinger is serving as current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal investigation into what makes us happy and healthy. The study is older than Waldinger himself.
In 1938, two studies, independent of one another, took form: one examining a group of 268 male Harvard undergraduates, the other analyzing 456 inner-city adolescents. In the ’70s, the two were merged, and the two cohorts juxtaposed for comparison. Today, Waldinger studies the more than 2,000 children of the original participants to consider the effect of childhood experience on mid-life health and well-being.
Keeping a study like this going for as long as it has is no easy feat, Waldinger explains. There’s the constant struggle of securing funding and willing researchers, and the need to retain participant involvement. Most longitudinal studies, Waldinger explains, have to be ended before the 10-year mark because too many participants drop out. The maximum acceptable dropout rate is around 40 percent, while in this study, only five percent of the Harvard men and 22 percent of the inner-city men have dropped out.