U-M economist F. Thomas Juster, former ISR director, dies at 83

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Economist F. Thomas Juster, a former director of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), and the founding director of the landmark U-M Health & Retirement Study, died in Ann Arbor, Mich., on July 21. He was 83.

“Tom Juster was much more than an eminent research scientist who made important contributions to the fields of economics and survey research,” says ISR Director James S. Jackson. “He was also an honest man who believed deeply in the value of survey research, and who had a gift for conducting research that was not only relevant to public policy but also illuminated the realities of everyday life. He fought hard for what he believed in, and brought honor to his profession, his colleagues, his friends, and his family. He will be greatly missed.”

Over his long and distinguished career, Juster made major contributions to the assessment of household savings and wealth, and to the measurement of time use in American families.

“Tom Juster was the founding director of perhaps the most important social science study of the last twenty-five years — the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which will continue as a living tribute to him,” says Richard Suzman, director, Division of Social and Behavioral Research, National Institute on Aging. “Innovative and internationally recognized, the HRS is the premier study on retirement, pensions, and the interrelationships between health and economic status in the older population. Many of the study’s innovations came from Tom’s mind. These include breaking the length barrier for surveys and improving the measurement of wealth.”

“When Tom began his work, it was widely accepted that you couldn’t really measure wealth accurately with surveys,” says U-M economist Robert Willis, who succeeded Juster as director of the HRS.. “When you ask how much people have in their savings or IRA accounts, or what their homes are worth, too many people say they don’t know or refuse to answer.

“But instead of accepting these answers, Tom went on to ask people, Well, do you have more or less than $1,000, and if they said more, then they would be asked, Do you have more or less than $5,000, and so on. This provided an answer within a relatively narrow range, and it’s an approach that is widely used now around the world in all kinds of surveys.”

His contribution to the measurement of time use in U.S. households resulted in the still widely cited 1985 book co-edited with U-M economist Frank Stafford, “Time, Goods, and Well-Being.” The survey the book was based on was the first national work to use scientifically valid methods to collect time use data using time diaries. “These methods, which established accurate measures of time spent on non-market, household behaviors like doing housework and watching television, are still regarded as the gold standard of American time use surveys,” says Stafford. “Tom was also one of the first to show how time use relates to affect and well-being.”

Juster, who was born in Hollis, Long Island, New York, on August 17, 1926, received a B.S. degree in Education from Rutgers University in 1949. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia University in 1956. He served as an assistant professor at Amherst College from 1953-1959, and served on the research staff of the National Bureau of Economic Research from 1959 -1973. In that year, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan as a research scientist and professor of economics, and served as director of the Institute for Social Research from 1976-1986.

During his tenure as ISR director, he led a successful effort to safeguard social science funding levels threatened at the start of the Reagan Administration. Along with other leading social scientists, he testified at congressional hearings and prepared numerous position papers on the value of continuous, large-scale, long-term social science surveys and their relevance to public policy.

The author of numerous books and peer-reviewed articles on consumer expectations, the distribution of economic well-being, and time use, Juster became increasingly interested in the economics of aging. He served as the founding director of the interdisciplinary Health and Retirement Survey, which became the model for a growing number of similar studies around the world. Commissioned and funded by the National Institute on Aging, the study of more than 22,000 participants over age 50 sheds light on issues such as precursors and consequences of retirement, life course patterns of wealth accumulation and consumption, incidence of work disability, and the relationship of health, income, and wealth over time.

“Tom accomplished the rare feat of getting scholars from different disciplines with different ideas to work effectively with each other because he was able to listen, was widely respected and everyone liked him,” says the NIA’s Suzman. “His sense of people and how to run a survey helped manage the melding of ideas from disparate and often warring disciplines, such as economics, epidemiology, demography and psychology, well before interdisciplinarity became the rage.”

Juster also served on the editorial boards of several journals and served as editor of Economic Outlook USA. He was a fellow of the American Statistical Association and the National Association of Business Economist, and chaired many national committees and professional association. In 1993, he received the U-M’s Senior Research Scientist Lectureship Award in recognition of his “distinguished contributions to the intellectual environment of the University of Michigan and excellence in research.”

He is survived by his wife Marie of Ann Arbor; children Thomas (Sarah Kruse) Juster of St. Petersburg, Florida; Susan Juster of Ann Arbor; Arnold (Netta Berlin) Juster of Ann Arbor; and Maria (Eric Anderson) Juster of Wellfleet, Massachusetts; grandchildren Rachel Garrison, Jane Juster Mayfield, Matthew Juster Mayfield, Mario Juster Kruse, Sofia Juster Kruse, and Charlie Juster Anderson. He is also survived by sisters June Juster Kulp and Rosalie Juster.

The Oct. 2 memorial service will take place on the U-M campus in the Hussey Room at the Michigan League from 10 a.m. to noon. A reception will follow.

For more information, contact Patrick Shields, pshield@umich.edu.

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U-M economist F. Thomas Juster, former ISR director, dies at 83