Selected Articles

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.
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.
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.
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 Version Abstract
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. Website Abstract
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. Website Abstract
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
Sampson, Robert J. 2014. “Criminal Justice Processing and the Social Matrix of Adversity.” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 651: 296-301. Publisher's Version
J., Ursano Robert, Jodi B. A. McKibben, Dori B. Reissman, Xian Liu, Leming Wang, Robert J. Sampson, and Carol S. Fullerton. 2014. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Community Collective Efficacy following the 2004 Florida Hurricanes.” PLoS ONE 9 (2): e88467. Publisher's Version Abstract
There is a paucity of research investigating the relationship of community-level characteristics such as collective efficacy and posttraumatic stress following disasters. We examine the association of collective efficacy with probable posttraumatic stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity in Florida public health workers (n = 2249) exposed to the 2004 hurricane season using a multilevel approach. Anonymous questionnaires were distributed electronically to all Florida Department of Health personnel nine months after the 2004 hurricane season. The collected data were used to assess posttraumatic stress disorder and collective efficacy measured at both the individual and zip code levels. The majority of participants were female (80.42%), and ages ranged from 20 to 78 years (median = 49 years); 73.91% were European American, 13.25% were African American, and 8.65% were Hispanic. Using multi-level analysis, our data indicate that higher community-level and individual-level collective efficacy were associated with a lower likelihood of having posttraumatic stress disorder (OR = 0.93, CI = 0.88–0.98; and OR = 0.94, CI = 0.92–0.97, respectively), even after adjusting for individual sociodemographic variables, community socioeconomic characteristic variables, individual injury/damage, and community storm damage. Higher levels of community-level collective efficacy and individual-level collective efficacy were also associated with significantly lower posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity (b = −0.22, p<0.01; and b = −0.17, p<0.01, respectively), after adjusting for the same covariates. Lower rates of posttraumatic stress disorder are associated with communities with higher collective efficacy. Programs enhancing community collective efficacy may be an important part of prevention practices and possibly lead to a reduction in the rate of posttraumatic stress disorder post-disaster.
Sampson, Robert J. 2014. “Inequality from the Top Down and Bottom Up: Toward a Revised Wacquant.” Ethnic and Racial Studies Review 37: 1732-1738. Publisher's Version Abstract
In this response I focus on two major themes in Wacquant's trilogy: (1) punishment and the state; and (2) territorial stigmatization. I discuss evidence that supports elements of Wacquant's argument, while at the same time demonstrating the need for an account that brings mediating institutional processes of the state, violence, the civil sphere and neighbourhood mechanisms more fully into the larger theoretical picture. I conclude that ‘bottom-up’ processes of inequality must be integrated with ‘top-down’ forces of the state to advance our theoretical understanding of penality and spatial marginality in federated and unitary governments alike.
Hwang, Jackelyn, and Robert J. Sampson. 2014. “Divergent Pathways of Gentrification: Racial Inequality and the Social Order of Renewal in Chicago Neighborhoods.” American Sociological Review 79 (4). Website Abstract
Gentrification has inspired considerable debate, but direct examination of its uneven evolution across time and space is rare. We address this gap by developing a conceptual framework on the social pathways of gentrification and introducing a method of systematic social observation using Google Street View to detect visible cues of neighborhood change. We argue that a durable racial hierarchy governs residential selection and, in turn, gentrifying neighborhoods. Integrating census data, police records, prior street-level observations, community surveys, proximity to amenities, and city budget data on capital investments, we find that the pace of gentrification in Chicago from 2007 to 2009 was negatively associated with the concentration of blacks and Latinos in neighborhoods that either showed signs of gentrification or were adjacent and still disinvested in 1995. Racial composition has a threshold effect, however, attenuating gentrification when the share of blacks in a neighborhood is greater than 40 percent. Consistent with theories of neighborhood stigma, we also find that collective perceptions of disorder, which are higher in poor minority neighborhoods, deter gentrification, while observed disorder does not. These results help explain the reproduction of neighborhood racial inequality amid urban transformation.
Sampson, Robert J. 2013. “Thinking about Context.” City and Community 12: 28-34. Publisher's Version
Owens, Anne, and Robert J. Sampson. 2013. “Community Well-Being and the Great Recession.” Pathways Magazine Spring: 3-7.
Sampson, Robert J., Christopher Winship, and Carly Knight. 2013. “Translating Causal Claims: Principles and Strategies for Policy-Relevant Criminology.” Criminology and Public Policy 12 (4): 585-616. Publisher's Version Abstract
This article reviews the causal turn in the social sciences and accompanying efforts by criminologists to make policy claims more credible. Although there has been much progress in techniques for the estimation of causal effects, we find that the link between evidence and valid policy implications remains elusive. Drawing on criminological theory and research insights from disciplines such as sociology, economics, and statistics, we assess principles and strategies for informing policy in a causally uncertain world. We identify three distinct domains of inquiry that form a part of the translational process from evidence to policy and that complicate the straightforward exportation of causal effects to policy recommendations: (a) mechanisms and causal pathways, (b) effect heterogeneity, and (c) contextualization. We elaborate these three concepts by examining research on broken windows theory, policing, video games and violence, the Moving to Opportunity voucher experiment, incarceration, and especially the rich set of experimental studies on domestic violence that originated in Minneapolis, MN in the early 1980s. We also articulate a set of conceptual tools for advancing the goal of policy translation and offer recommendations for how what we call “policy graphs”—causal graphs used to analyze the policy implications of a system of causal relations—can potentially integrate the theoretical and policy arms of criminology.
Sampson, Robert J. 2013. “When Disaster Strikes, It's Survival of the Sociable.” New Scientist, 2916, 28-29.
I present a theoretical framework and analytic strategy for the study of place as a fundamental context in criminology, with a focus on neighborhood effects. My approach builds on the past 15 years of research from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods and from a recent book unifying the results. I argue that “ecometrics” can be applied at multiple scales, and I elaborate core principles and guiding hypotheses for five problems: 1) legacies of inequality and developmental neighborhood effects; 2) race, crime, and the new diversity; 3) cognition and context, above all the social meaning of disorder; 4) the measurement and sources of collective efficacy in a cosmopolitan world; and 5) higher order structures beyond the neighborhood that arise in complex urban systems. Although conceptually distinct, these hard problems are interdependent and ultimately linked to a frontier in criminology: contextual causality.