Fern Willits, Ph.D.

Fern Willits, Ph.D.

  • Distinguished Professor Emerita


  • PhD., Rural Sociology, Penn State, 1964


Research Interests

My research activities focus largely on assessing, through opinion surveys, public perceptions of current social issues and the nature of changes in citizens' views across time. Related to this work I have been involved in studies concerned with improving the quality of survey data by exploring issues related to response rates and measurement validity.  In addition, I serve as principal investigator for an ongoing 50+ year longitudinal study of continuity and change in attitudes and behavior of individuals across the lifespan.

Outreach/Extension Interests

Although I have no formal extension appointment, as part of my research output I seek to share my research findings with decision-makers, educators, and interested citizens with the goals of increasing understanding of and contributing to public discourse on issues related to state and community social concerns.

Current/Recent Courses

  • Ag 400:  Statistics in the Life Sciences
  • RSoc 573: Survey Data Analysis
  • RSoc 597A: Issues in Data Analysis

Recent Selected Publications

Willits, Fern K., A. E. Luloff, and Michael W-P Fortunato. 2010. Rural Pennsylvanians' Attitudes:  Continuity and Change. University Park: Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, The Pennsylvania State University.

Willits, Fern K., A. E. Luloff, and Michael W-P Fortunato. 2010. “2008 Attitudinal Survey of Pennsylvania Rural Residents. Harrisburg, PA: Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

Stedman, Richard, Fern Willits, Kathryn Brasier, Matthew Filteau, Diane McLaughlin, and Jeffrey Jacquet. 2010. Natural Gas Development: Views of New York and Pennsylvania Residents in the Marcellus Shale Region. Research Policy Brief Series (39).

Willits, Fern K., Matthew R. Filteau, Diane K. McLaughlin, Kathryn Brasier, Teri Ooms, Sherry Tracewski, Richard C. Stedman. 2010. Pennsylvania Residents' Perceptions of Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale. The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development.

Dillman, D. A., V. Lesser, R. Mason, J Carlson, F. Willits, R. Robertson, B. Burke. 2007. Personalization of Mail Surveys for General Public and Populations with a Group Identity: Results from Nine Studies, Rural Sociology  72(4): 632-646.

Becker, John C.; Willits, Fern K.; Snyder, Anastasia; Murphy, Dennis J.; Hilton, James; Ryan, Andrea; Bahandari, 2009. Nonfamily youths temporarily employed in agriculture. Prem. Monthly Labor Review. 132(7): 60-66.

Ryan, A. K. and F. K. Willits. 2007. Family Ties, Physical Health and Psychological Well-Being, Journal of Aging and Health 19(6): 907-945. 

Willits, F. K., A. E. Luloff, and J. S. James. 2006. Pennsylvanians' Knowledge of Agriculture. University Park, PA: Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, The Pennsylvania State University.

Elmendorf, W., F.K. Willits, V. Sasidharan, and G. Godbey. 2005. Urban Park and Forest Participation and Landscape Preference: A Comparison between Blacks and Whites in Philadelphia, Journal of Aboriculture 31(6):318-325.

Sasidharan, V., F. K. Willits, G. Godbey. 2005. Cultural Differences in Urban Recreation Patterns: An Examination of Park Usage and Activity Participation Across Six Population Subgroups. Managing Leisure, 10(1):19-38.

Ching-hua Ho; Sasidharan, Vinod; Elmendorf, William; Willits, Fern K.; Graefe, Alan; Godbey, Geoffrey. 2005. Gender and Ethnic Variations in Urban Park Preferences, Visitation, and Perceived Benefits. Journal of Leisure Research, 2005 3rd Quarter. 37(3): 281-306.

Willits, F. K., A.E. Luloff, and F.X. Higdon. 2004. 2003 Attitudinal Survey of Pennsylvania Rural Residents.  Harrisburg, PA: The Center for Rural Pennsylvania.