Sykes' research focuses on demography and criminology, with particular interests in fertility, mortality, population health, mass incarceration, social inequality, and research methodology. He is an Associate Editor for Science Advances, an Academic Editor for the Public Library of Science (PLOS) ONE, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Sociological Perspectives. Sykes is an an inaugural Inclusive Excellence Term Chair Professor, and a Chancellor's Fellow in the Department of Criminology, Law & Society (and, by courtesy, Sociology and Public Health).
Reviews the exclusionary criteria of surveys used to gauge the effects of civil rights legislation. Argues that these exclusions affected both statistical portraits of inequality and our understanding of the impact of these civil rights laws. Questions assessments of equal opportunity more than half a century after the enactment of historic legislation meant to redress racial inequities in America.
Examines how the rise in incarceration and its disproportionate concentration among low-skill, young African American men influences estimates of educational attainment in the United States. Focuses on high school graduation rates and the persistent gap in attainment that exists between young black and white Americans.
Explores how the strains of neighborhood and cumulative disadvantage are associated with racial differences in bullying, and whether social program participation – enlistment in needs-based social programs to attenuate poverty and disadvantage – upends race-based differences in bullying. Results show that adolescents who experience any markers of disadvantage are more likely to bully others, with Black and Hispanic adolescents being more likely to engage in bullying than Whites. Yet, participation in needs-based social programs eliminates racial differences in bullying.
Argues that because of the established health risks and substantial increases in prevalence, obesity has become a major global health challenge. Urges global action and leadership to help countries to more effectively intervene.
Explores the disjuncture between institutional policies and potential community outcomes by evaluating health assessments of inmates before and during prison admission. Argues that the penal institution is an active agent in structuring and recreating health inequalities within prisons, thereby exacerbating existing community health inequities when inmates are released.
Investigates how race and educational inequality in parental incarceration are associated with markers of deprivation and social program enlistment after the Great Recession. Finds that children with an incarcerated parent experience greater levels of deprivation – material hardship, unmet health needs, and residential instability – and that these children are drawn into social service programs at a higher rate than the rate for children unexposed to parental incarceration. Estimates that nearly 2.1 million children (or 81 percent of minors) with an incarcerated parent are enrolled in at least one social service program.
Examines the link between family complexity – measured by noncustodial parenthood and multiple-partner fertility – and incarceration. Considers how race and class inequality in parental incarceration may contribute to family complexity and the reproduction of childhood disadvantage.