Selected Articles

Sampson, Robert J., and Brian L.Levy. 2020. “Beyond Residential Mobility: Mobility-Based Connectedness and Rates of Violence in Large Cities.” Race and Social Problems 12: 77-86.
Phillips, Nolan, Brian L.Levy, Robert J. Sampson, Mario L. Small, and Ryan Qi Wang. 2019. “The Social Integration of American Cities: Network Measures of Connectedness Based on Everyday Mobility across Neighborhoods.” Sociological Methods and Research, 1-40. Publisher's Version
Levy, Brian, Ann Owens, and Robert J. Sampson. 2019. “The Varying Effects of Neighborhood Disadvantage on College Graduation: Moderating and Mediating Mechanisms.” Sociology of Education 92 (3): 269-292. Publisher's Version
Manduca, Robert, and Robert J. Sampson. 2019. “Punishing and toxic neighborhood environments independently predict the intergenerational social mobility of black and white children.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (16): 7772 – 7777. Publisher's Version
Nagin, Daniel S, and Robert J. Sampson. 2019. “The Real Gold Standard: Measuring Counterfactual Worlds That Matter Most to Social Science and Policy.” Annual Review of Criminology 2: 123-145. Publisher's Version
Wang, Qi, Nolan Edward Phillips, Mario L. Small, and Robert J. Sampson. 2018. “Urban Mobility and Neighborhood Isolation in America’s 50 Largest Cities.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115 (30): 7735-7740. Publisher's Version
Muller, Christopher, Robert J. Sampson, and Alix S. Winter. 2018. “Environmental Inequality: The Social Causes and Consequences of Lead Exposure.” Annual Review of Sociology 44: 263-282. Publisher's Version
Sampson, Robert J., William Julius Wilson, and Hanna Katz. 2018. “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 15 (1): 13-34. Publisher's Version
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 Version Abstract
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 Version Abstract

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. 

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 Version Abstract
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.”
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 Version Abstract
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.