Jared Kushner Doesn't Read And That Could Take Years Off His Life

A former Observer editor, Kyle Pope, said that White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, shown arriving for a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting on July 24, 2017, does not read. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Famously, Jared Kushner does not read much. Could that lack of love for literature impact his health? It's not that far-fetched; based on scientific studies, reading could impact people's lifespans and influence their risk of developing dementia.

Readers live about two years longer on average than non-readers, researcher Avni Bavishi and her team at the Yale School of Public Health estimated in their paper, published in September 2016 in Social Science and Medicine. She and her colleagues used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term project run at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, which included about 3,000 participants. They separated the participants into two groups based on how much they read, and measured how long it would take for 20 percent of the people in each of the groups to die.

Bavishi and her team found that the readers group hit that 20 percent mark about 24 months later than the non-reading group, indicating a "survival advantage."

It's particularly interesting that this study looked only at books; as ex-Kushner employee Kyle Pope wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, Kushner didn't seem to read books or even his own newspaper.

"Most weeks, Kushner not only didn't read the Observer, he didn't appear to read anything else, either. I never knew him to discuss a book, a play, or anything else that was in the Observer's cultural wheelhouse," Pope wrote.

There are some important caveats to this research; it's self-reported information based on the last week, so it may not fully represent a person's full experience. Furthermore, the study only included adults over 50, so the results might not be directly applicable to Kushner, who is only 36.

"There's not a lot of other good data on other age groups, so I think that would be an interesting direction to follow-up," Bavishi said.

Another study published in 2013 in Neurology looked at the effect reading had on the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's. That research also looked at older people, but asked about early-life reading habits as well. Once again, readers appeared to have the health advantage, showing a decreased risk of dementia, Alzheimer's or other forms of cognitive decline relative to people who didn't.

And it's not that people have stopped reading because they have dementia, Wilson said; it truly is that the reading levels may influence risk. "How much you read, essentially, accounted for another 10 percent of the cognitive decline, and that was with controls for dementia-related pathologies," Wilson said.

"We and others have been finding this association between cognitive activity—reading—and cognitive function in late life for a long time," Wilson said.

A woman reads a book in a bookstore in Beijing on November 7, 2017. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

Not all studies, of course, are created equal. One study was widely touted as proof that people who read literary fiction were more empathetic, but researchers couldn't replicate those results.

"Let me preface this by saying that I love to read, and I think there are a lot of benefits to reading," said Boston College psychologist Ellen Winner, but, she said, that particular study didn't quite hold up. (The original study, published in Science, was done by other researchers; Winner tried to replicate it independently.)

The test used in that study only meant people were better at determining emotions from eye cues; it didn't actually say what they did with that knowledge, Winner noted. "It doesn't tell you whether or not you're going to be an empathetic person." People who are more manipulative may also be able to detect these kinds of cues better than the average person, Winter noted.

There are some indications that books may make people relate more to others, she said. One study showed that Harry Potter readers seemed to have more positive attitudes toward minority groups.

However, Winner noted, on the whole it hasn't been shown if reading changes behavior. "What I'd like to know is does a judge who spends a year reading fiction give more lenient sentences," Winner said, "And I don't think we're going to be able to study that. We won't know which way the causality goes."

"I think people should be careful linking correlational data to causal data," she said.

All the same—picking up a book (or maybe a news magazine) probably couldn't hurt.