Robert J. Sampson

Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University; Affiliated Research Professor, American Bar Foundation
Areas of Expertise:
  • Civic Engagement
  • Inequality & the Middle Class
  • Cities & Regions
  • Criminal Justice

Connect with Robert

About Robert

Sampson's research and teaching focuses on crime, the life course, urban disorder (e.g., “broken windows”), the effect of neighborhoods on everyday life, civic engagement, inequality, and the social structure of the American city. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and winner of the Stockholm Prize in Criminology. He has also served on numerous advisory boards and has held leadership positions in both the academy and government, most recently serving as President of the American Society of Criminology and on the “Committee on the Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration” (National Research Council) and Scientific Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.


Crime and Turning Points across the Life Course

  • Robert J. Sampson



"Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy" (with Stephen Raudenbush and Felton Earls). Science 277, no. 5328 (1997): 918-924.
Shows that a measure of collective efficacy – defined as social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good – yields a high between-neighborhood reliability and is negatively associated with variations in violence, when individual-level characteristics, measurement error, and prior violence are controlled.
Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points through Life (with John H. Laub) (Harvard University Press, 1993).
Re-analyzes a classic set of data – Sheldon and Eleanor Gluecks' mid-century study of 500 delinquents and 500 nondelinquents from childhood to adulthood – to develop a theory of informal social control that acknowledges the importance of childhood behavior but rejects the implication that adult social factors have little relevance. This theory accounts for both stability and change in crime and deviance throughout the life course.
Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives: Delinquent Boys to Age 70 (with John H. Laub) (Harvard University Press, 2003).
Analyzes newly collected data on crime and social development up to age 70 for 500 men who were remanded to reform school in the 1940s; by uniting life-history narratives with rigorous data analysis, the authors shed new light on long-term trajectories of crime and current policies of crime control.
"Social Anatomy of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Violence" (with Jeffrey D. Morenoff and Stephen Raudenbush). American Journal of Public Health 95, no. 2 (2005): 224-232.
Analyzes key individual, family, and neighborhood factors to assess competing hypotheses regarding racial/ethnic gaps in perpetrating violence; results imply that generic interventions to improve neighborhood conditions and support families may reduce racial gaps in violence.
"Durable Effects of Concentrated Disadvantage on Verbal Ability among African-American Children" (with Patrick Sharkey and Stephen Raudenbush). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105, no. 3 (2008): 845-853.
Presents longitudinal evidence from a large-scale study of >2,000 children ages 6-12 living in Chicago, along with their caretakers, who were followed wherever they moved in the U.S. for up to 7 years. Results indicate that living in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood reduces the later verbal ability of black children on average by approximately 4 points, a magnitude that rivals missing a year or more of schooling.
Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect (University of Chicago Press, 2012, paperback 2013).
Presents over a decade’s research in Chicago combined with Sampson’s own unique personal observations about life in the city, from Cabrini Green to Trump Tower and Millennium Park to the Robert Taylor Homes, to argue that neighborhoods influence a remarkably wide variety of social phenomena, including crime, health, civic engagement, home foreclosures, teen births, altruism, leadership networks, and immigration.

In the News

Robert J. Sampson quoted in Ronald Trowbridge, "What Do We Do with Illegal Immigrants?" Texas GOP Vote, February 1, 2018.
Robert J. Sampson quoted on using Street View images to examine the role of race in the process of gentrification and neighborhood transformation in Richard Florida, "The Complex Relationship between Data and Cities" City Lab, May 18, 2016.
Robert J. Sampson quoted on place-based forces that contribute to inequality in John Schmid, "Neighborhoods Matter for a City's Overall Health" Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, September 12, 2015.
Robert J. Sampson quoted on economic segregation in Richard Florida, "America's Biggest Problem is Concentrated Poverty, Not Inequality" CityLab, August 10, 2015.
"Immigration and America's Urban Revival," Robert J. Sampson, The American Prospect, Summer 2015.
Robert J. Sampson quoted on effective sociological studies in Orlando Patterson, "How Sociologists Made Themselves Irrelevant" The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 1, 2014.
"A New View of Gentrification," Robert J. Sampson (with Jackelyn Hwang), Interview with Peter Reuell, Harvard Gazette, August 1, 2014.
Robert J. Sampson's research on immigrants and crime discussed in Eyal PressRobert J. Sampson, "Do Immigrants Make Us Safer?," New York Times Magazine, December 3, 2006.
Robert J. Sampson's research on perceptions of neighborhoods discussed in Daniel BrookRobert J. Sampson, "The Cracks in 'Broken Windows'," Boston Globe, February 19, 2006.
"Open Doors Don't Invite Criminals," Robert J. Sampson, New York Times, March 11, 2006.
"Next Great Idea: The Enduring Effect of Neighborhoods," Robert J. Sampson, Interview with Richard Florida, The Atlantic, April 5, 2012.
"Don't Shut the Golden Door: The Beneficial Impact of Immigration," Robert J. Sampson (with John M. MacDonald), New York Times, April 5, 2012.
Robert J. Sampson's research on Chicago neighborhoods discussed in Benedict CareyRobert J. Sampson, "Diagnosis: Battered but Vibrant," New York Times, January 8, 2013.
"The Enduring Importance of Neighborhoods: A Sense of Trust is Key to Making Urban Neighborhoods Thrive," Robert J. Sampson, Interview with Dan Hurley, Discover Magazine, March 8, 2013.
"Q&A: Robert Sampson, Social Scientist, on How Neighborhoods Shape Our Lives," Robert J. Sampson, Interview with Christina Hernandez Sherwood, SmartPlanet, November 2, 2013.
"All in the Neighborhood," Robert J. Sampson, Interview with Kevin C. Brown, Remapping Debate, December 11, 2013.
Guest to discuss neighborhoods and community on BBC Radio’s “Thinking Allowed”, Robert J. Sampson, December 16, 2013.
"Division Street, U.S.A.," Robert J. Sampson, Opinionator, New York Times, October 26, 2013.