Selected Articles

Muller, Christopher, and Robert J. Sampson. Forthcoming. “Environmental Inequality: The Social Causes and Consequences of Lead Exposure.” Annual Review of Sociology,.
Sampson, Robert J., William Julius Wilson, and Hanna Katz. Forthcoming. “Reassessing “Toward a Theory of Race, Crime, and Urban Inequality”: Enduring and New Challenges in 21st Century America.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race.
Sampson, Robert J., and Alix S. Winter. 2018. “Poisoned Development: Assessing Lead Exposure as a Cause of Crime in a Birth Cohort Followed through Adolescence.” Criminology, 1-33. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The consequences of lead exposure for later crime are theoretically compelling, but direct evidence from representative, longitudinal samples is sparse. By capitalizing on an original follow‐up of more than 200 infants from the birth cohort of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods matched to their blood lead levels from around age 3 years, we provide several tests. Through the use of four waves of longitudinal data that include measures of individual development, family background, and structural inequalities in how lead becomes embodied, we assess the hypothesized link between early childhood lead poisoning and both parent‐reported delinquent behavior and official arrest in late adolescence. We also test for mediating developmental processes of impulsivity and anxiety or depression. The results from multiple analytic strategies that make different assumptions reveal a plausibly causal effect of childhood lead exposure on adolescent delinquent behavior but no direct link to arrests. The results underscore lead exposure as a trigger for poisoned development in the early life course and call for greater integration of the environment into theories of individual differences in criminal behavior.
Sampson, Robert J., Jared Schachner, and Robert D. Mare. 2017. “Urban Income Inequality and the Great Recession in Sunbelt Form: Disentangling Individual and Neighborhood-Level Change in Los Angeles.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 3: 102-128. Publisher's VersionAbstract
New social transformations within and beyond the cities of classic urban studies challenge prevailing accounts of spatial inequality. This paper pivots from the Rust Belt to the Sunbelt accordingly, disentangling persistence and change in neighborhood median income and concentrated income extremes in Los Angeles County. We first examine patterns of change over two decades starting in 1990 for all Los Angeles neighborhoods. We then analyze an original longitudinal study of approximately six hundred Angelenos from 2000 to 2013, assessing the degree to which contextual changes in neighborhood income arise from neighborhood-level mobility or individual residential mobility. Overall we find deep and persistent inequality among both neighborhoods and individuals. Contrary to prior research, we also find that residential mobility does not materially alter neighborhood economic conditions for most race, ethnic, and income groups. Our analyses lay the groundwork for a multilevel theoretical framework capable of explaining spatial inequality across cities and historical eras.
Winter, Alix S., and Robert J. Sampson. 2017. “From Lead Exposure in Early Childhood to Adolescent Health: A Chicago Birth Cohort.” American Journal of Public Health 107 (9): 1496-1501. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Objectives. To assess the relationships between childhood lead exposure and 3 domains of later adolescent health: mental, physical, and behavioral.

Methods. We followed a random sample of birth cohort members from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, recruited in 1995 to 1997, to age 17 years and matched to childhood blood test results from the Department of Public Health. We used ordinary least squares regression, coarsened exact matching, and instrumental variables to assess the relationship between average blood lead levels in childhood and impulsivity, anxiety or depression, and body mass index in adolescence. All models adjusted for relevant individual, household, and neighborhood characteristics.

Results. After adjustment, a 1 microgram per deciliter increase in average childhood blood lead level significantly predicts 0.06 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.01, 0.12) and 0.09 (95% CI = 0.03, 0.16) SD increases and a 0.37 (95% CI = 0.11, 0.64) point increase in adolescent impulsivity, anxiety or depression, and body mass index, respectively, following ordinary least squares regression. Results following matching and instrumental variable strategies are very similar.

Conclusions. Childhood lead exposure undermines adolescent well-being, with implications for the persistence of racial and class inequalities, considering structural patterns of initial exposure. 

Sampson, Robert J. 2017. “Urban Sustainability in an Age of Enduring Inequalities: Advancing Theory and Ecometrics for the 21st-Century.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.   . Publisher's VersionAbstract

The environmental fragility of cities under advanced urbanization has motivated extensive efforts to promote the sustainability of urban ecosystems and physical infrastructures. Less attention has been devoted to neighborhood inequalities and fissures in the civic infrastructure that potentially challenge social sustainability and the capacity of cities to collectively address environmental challenges. This article draws on a program of research in three American cities—Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles—to develop hypotheses and methodological strategies for assessing how the multidimensional and multilevel inequalities that characterize contemporary cities bear on sustainability. In addition to standard concerns with relative inequality in income, the article reviews evidence on compounded deprivation, racial cleavages, civic engagement, institutional cynicism, and segregated patterns of urban mobility and organizational ties that differentially connect neighborhood resources. Harnessing “ecometric” measurement tools and emerging sources of urban data with a theoretically guided framework on neighborhood inequality can enhance the pursuit of sustainable cities, both in the United States and globally.

Sampson, Robert J., and John H. Laub. 2016. “Turning Points and the Future of Life-Course Criminology: Reflections on the 1986 Criminal Careers Report.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 53: 321-335. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In 1986, the National Research Council published a two-volume report, Criminal Careers andCareer Criminals.” This work generated fierce debates central to the field of criminology and pitted some of the biggest names in the business against one another. In this paper, we consider the last 30 years and ask whether the report was an intellectual turning point. Our answer is that while the report did change the methodological direction of criminology, it lacked a theoretical explanation of the dynamics of crime. After the report was published, several efforts attempted to fill this breach. We reflect on the role that the Criminal Careers report played in our own work, from the time of the report’s release to the development and assessment of what is now known as the age-graded theory of informal social control and the broader field of “life-course criminology.”
Sampson, Robert J. 2016. “Neighborhood Inequality and Public Policy: What Can Milwaukee Learn from Chicago and Boston?” Marquette Lawyer Summer: 9-20.
Sampson, Robert J. 2016. “The Characterological Imperative: On Heckman, Humphries, and Kautz’s The Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life.” Journal of Economic Literature 54 (2): 493–513. Publisher's VersionAbstract
James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, and Tim Kautz make a powerful case for noncognitive skills--or what they conceptualize as character--as an explanation of educational achievement and other important outcomes in life. They do so while exposing the myth of the GED, arguing that the GED harms its intended beneficiaries by failing to instill the character skills that predict adult success. Childhood interventions to build personal character, especially self-control, are emphasized. The Myth of Achievement Tests is a major contribution, but I integrate relevant research on crime and social control across the life course that motivates a more dynamic conceptualization of character. I also review evidence on the environment as a source of both cognitive and noncognitive skills, including exposure to concentrated deprivation, violence, and lead toxicity. Moreover, I review evidence suggesting that social reactions to character shape life chances in ways not reducible to individual propensities, such as changes in criminal-justice policy that created large cohort differentials in incarceration for the same underlying behaviors. Social context and the character of American society itself are thus central to fostering individual character--not just skills but the desire to conform. It follows that self-control and social control need to be better unified theoretically and in designing interventions.
Sampson, Robert J. 2016. “Individual and Community Economic Mobility in the Great Recession Era: The Spatial Foundations of Persistent Inequality.” Economic Mobility: Research and Ideas on Strengthening Families, Communities and the Economy, 261-287. Publisher's Version
Sampson, Robert J., and Alix Winter. 2016. “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.” DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race 13 (2). Publisher's VersionAbstract
This paper examines the racial ecology of lead exposure as a form of environmental inequity, one with both historical and contemporary significance. Drawing on comprehensive data from over one million blood tests administered to Chicago children from 1995-2013 and matched to over 2300 geographic block groups, we address two major questions: (1) What is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and variability in children’s elevated lead prevalence levels? And (2) what is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and rates of change in children’s prevalence levels over time within neighborhoods? We further assess an array of structural explanations for observed racial disparities, including socioeconomic status, type and age of housing, proximity to freeways and smelting plants, and systematic observations of housing decay and neighborhood disorder. Overall, our theoretical framework posits lead toxicity as a major environmental pathway through which racial segregation has contributed to the legacy of Black disadvantage in the United States. Our findings support this hypothesis and show alarming racial disparities in toxic exposure, even after accounting for possible structural explanations. At the same time, however, our longitudinal results show the power of public health policies to reduce racial inequities.
Sampson, Robert J. 2015. “Continuity and Change in Neighborhood Culture: Toward a Structurally Embedded Theory of Social Altruism and Moral Cynicism.” The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, edited by Orlando Patterson and Nathan Fosse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Warner, Barbara, and Robert J. Sampson. 2015. “Social Disorganization, Collective Efficacy and MacroLevel Control Theories.” Challenging Criminological Theory: The Legacy of Ruth Kornhauser. Advances in Criminological Theory, edited by Francis T. Cullen, Pamela Wilcox, Robert J. Sampson, and Brendan D. Dooley. Vol. 19. New Brunswick, NJ and London, UK: Transaction Publishers, 19.
Sharkey, Patrick S., and Robert J. Sampson. 2015. “Violence, Cognition, and Neighborhood Inequality in America.” Social Neuroscience: Brain, Mind, and Society, edited by Russell K. Schutt, Larry J. Seidman, and Matcheri S. Keshavan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sampson, Robert J. 2015. “Crime and the Life-Course in a Changing World: Insights from Chicago and Implications for Global Criminology.” Asian Journal of Criminology 10 (4): 277–286. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This paper assesses the state of life-course criminology and argues that its major limitation to date is the general failure to incorporate social change. Invoking the concept of cohort differences in aging because of macro-level change, I discuss some of the watershed changes of recent times, including the historic crime decline, the technological revolution, massive immigration and urbanization, rises in inequality, and the Great Recession. I then introduce a new study from Chicago that attempts to link individual development and pathways of crime to some of these large-scale social changes, capitalizing on a cohort sequential design from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. I conclude with implications for global criminology, especially the role of urbanization, ethnic diversity, and inequality in Asia.
Perkins, Kristin L., and Robert J. Sampson. 2015. “Compounded Deprivation in the Transition to Adulthood: The Intersection of Racial and Economic Inequality Among Chicagoans, 1995–2013.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 1 (1): 35-54. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This paper investigates acute, compounded, and persistent deprivation in a representative sample of Chicago adolescents transitioning to young adulthood. Our investigation, based on four waves of longitudinal data from 1995 to 2013, is motivated by three goals. First, we document the prevalence of individual and neighborhood poverty over time, especially among whites, blacks, and Latinos. Second, we explore compounded deprivation, describing the extent to which study participants are simultaneously exposed to individual and contextual forms of deprivation—including material deprivation (such as poverty) and social-organizational deprivation (for example, low collective efficacy)—for multiple phases of the life course from adolescence up to age thirty-two. Third, we isolate the characteristics that predict transitions out of compounded and persistent poverty. The results provide new evidence on the crosscutting adversities that were exacerbated by the Great Recession and on the deep connection of race to persistent and compounded deprivation in the transition to adulthood.
Sampson, Robert J., Robert D. Mare, and Kristin L. Perkins. 2015. “Achieving the Middle Ground in an Age of Concentrated Extremes: Mixed Middle-Income Neighborhoods and Emerging Adulthood.” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 660 (1): 156-174. WebsiteAbstract
This article focuses on stability and change in “mixed middle-income” neighborhoods. We first analyze variation across nearly two decades for all neighborhoods in the United States and in the Chicago area, particularly. We then analyze a new longitudinal study of almost 700 Chicago adolescents over an 18-year span, including the extent to which they are exposed to different neighborhood income dynamics during the transition to young adulthood. The concentration of income extremes is persistent among neighborhoods, generally, but mixed middle-income neighborhoods are more fluid. Persistence also dominates among individuals, though Latino-Americans are much more likely than African Americans or whites to be exposed to mixed middle-income neighborhoods in the first place and to transition into them over time, even when adjusting for immigrant status, education, income, and residential mobility. The results here enhance our knowledge of the dynamics of income inequality at the neighborhood level, and the endurance of concentrated extremes suggests that policies seeking to promote mixed-income neighborhoods face greater odds than commonly thought.
O’Brien, Daniel, Robert J. Sampson, and Christopher Winship. 2015. “Ecometrics in the Age of Big Data: Measuring and Assessing ‘Broken Windows’ Using Large-scale Administrative Records.” Sociological Methodology 45: 101-147. WebsiteAbstract
The collection of large-scale administrative records in electronic form by many cities provides a new opportunity for the measurement and longitudinal tracking of neighborhood characteristics, but one that will require novel methodologies that convert such data into research-relevant measures. The authors illustrate these challenges by developing measures of “broken windows” from Boston’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system (aka 311 hotline). A 16-month archive of the CRM database contains more than 300,000 address-based requests for city services, many of which reference physical incivilities (e.g., graffiti removal). The authors carry out three ecometric analyses, each building on the previous one. Analysis 1 examines the content of the measure, identifying 28 items that constitute two independent constructs, private neglect and public denigration. Analysis 2 assesses the validity of the measure by using investigator-initiated neighborhood audits to examine the “civic response rate” across neighborhoods. Indicators of civic response were then extracted from the CRM database so that measurement adjustments could be automated. These adjustments were calibrated against measures of litter from the objective audits. Analysis 3 examines the reliability of the composite measure of physical disorder at different spatiotemporal windows, finding that census tracts can be measured at two-month intervals and census block groups at six-month intervals. The final measures are highly detailed, can be tracked longitudinally, and are virtually costless. This framework thus provides an example of how new forms of large-scale administrative data can yield ecometric measurement for urban science while illustrating the methodological challenges that must be addressed.
Sampson, Robert J. 2015. “Immigration and America's Urban Revival.” American Prospect , 20-24. Website
O’Brien, Daniel, and Robert J Sampson. 2015. “Public and Private Spheres of Neighborhood Disorder: Assessing Pathways to Violence Using Large-Scale Digital Records.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 52: 486-510. Website