Sept. 26, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 1

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    Tragedy survey shows some recovering more slowly

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    While most of the nation is moving toward a psychological recovery from the traumatic events of Sept. 11, 2001, a new survey from the National Opinion Research Center at the University finds that some groups of people appear to be experiencing more negative long-term effects from the tragedy than others.

    The report, “America Recovers: A Follow-Up to a National Study of Public Response to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks,” found that women, minorities, low-income groups and people in poor health were having a much greater difficulty recovering from 15 negative emotional and physical symptoms–including reduced appetite, a greater tendency to cry, rapid heart-beat and an increased urge to smoke–than the general population.

    In addition to measuring emotional responses to the terrorist attacks, researchers also found that feelings of national pride, which reached unprecedented levels in the weeks following the events of Sept. 11, continued to be unusually high. Likewise, people’s faith in others, which also was heightened by response to the events, did not decline.

    Americans’ confidence in the military remained high, while confidence in other institutions, such as Congress, business and organized religion, dropped toward pre -9/11 levels. “This may indicate public responsiveness to recent scandals,” explained Kenneth Rasinski, Principal Research Scientist at NORC and co-author of the report. “Sustained confidence in the military may reflect Americans’ perception that the high-profile military actions after 9/11 have been largely successful.”

    The new survey’s findings are based on telephone interviews with 805 U.S. residents and 296 residents of New York City. These respondents were first surveyed during the two weeks following the attacks. The follow-up interviews, designed to measure the long-term impact of the attacks, were conducted between January and March of 2002.

    “In general, we found a positive trend toward recovery,” said Tom Smith, a co-author of the National Tragedy Survey and the director of NORC’s General Social Survey. According to Smith, Americans were less likely than they were at the time of the attacks to report feeling depressed, feeling upset because they had been criticized or feeling restless. Moreover, many more Americans reported no stress symptoms at all. While 38 percent reported symptoms after the attacks, only 10 percent reported symptoms six months later.

    But while the overall numbers showed Americans were well on their way to recovery, Smith said, the findings on specific groups proved less encouraging.

    • New Yorkers had a rate of recovery on stress items about half that of others in the country.

    • Hispanics, who as a group had a particularly adverse reaction to 9/11, reported nearly twice as many symptoms as those without Hispanic heritage.

    • African Americans, a group that reported below-average numbers of stress symptoms in the first round of the survey, demonstrated much slower levels of recovery than other race groups.

    • Americans with less than a high school diploma, those who reported a family income of less than $40,000 and people who reported having poor health also showed very little change in reported symptoms between the two rounds of the survey.

    “These findings seem to support the literature that those in financially vulnerable situations have more adverse reactions over the long term,” Rasinski said.

    The report also showed that certain groups were more likely than others to make behavioral changes in response to the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax scares that followed.

    • Women were much more likely than men to report discarding their mail (34 vs. 19 percent) or taking precautions in handling mail, such as wearing gloves or washing their hands (30 vs. 11 percent). Women also reported avoiding crowds more often than men (20 vs. 12 percent).

    • Hispanics were more likely than others to say they had discarded their mail (54 vs. 26 percent) and avoided crowds (37 vs. 15 percent). Similarly, African Americans were more likely than whites to have taken these precautions (43 vs. 25 percent discarded their mail and 32 vs. 14 percent avoided crowds).

    • New Yorkers were twice as likely as people in the rest of the country (42 vs. 21 percent) to take extra precautions with their mail. Likewise, New Yorkers were twice as likely as others to have cancelled an airplane trip or to have asked for medicine to calm themselves down.

    The first wave of the study, funded by the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also contrasted public response to the Sept. 11 attacks with response to the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy.

    This report is available at: http://www.norc.uchicago.edu/projects/reaction/pubresp.pdf. The second wave of the study, which was funded by the MacArthur Foundation, is available at: http://norc.org/projects/reaction/pubresp2.pdf.