Whos watching the children?
Sampson studies monitoring practicesBy William Harms
Neighborhoods comprised of people who watch out for their neighbors children radiate that concern to adjacent and sometimes less-advantaged neighborhoods, encouraging people in those surrounding neighborhoods to also watch out for one anothers children, new research at the University shows.
In a comprehensive study of Chicago neighborhoods, Robert Sampson, the Lucy Flower Professor in Sociology, shows for the first time how much a communitys ability to nurture its children is helped or hindered by surrounding neighborhoods. The study also shows that previous research on neighborhoods that focused on poverty and the underclass provided a limited understanding of how neighborhoods work.
Adults are more likely to invest effort in the local monitoring of children when others around them are doing likewise, Sampson said. Parents with young children appear particularly sensitive to the geographic location of neighborhoods and schools in addition to their internal characteristics.
Sampson is the lead author of the paper Beyond Social Capital: Spatial Dynamics of Collective Efficacy for Children, which was published in the October issue of the American Sociological Review. Jeffrey Morenoff, assistant professor in sociology at the University of Michigan, and Felton Earls, professor in child psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, are Sampsons co-authors.
The study was based on interviews with more than 8,500 residents of 343 neighborhood clusters in Chicago. Neighborhood clusters are areas of relatively homogeneous social characteristics and geographies. Residents of these clusters were interviewed as part of a continuing project Sampson and others have undertakenthe Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Chicago was chosen for the study because it is representative of urban communities nationally.
The researchers sought to discover how residents of a neighborhood relate to one another in the effort to strengthen their community by looking at how they act in the mutual interests of children.
People who share expectations and are willing to connect with others create a high level of collective efficacy for children, according to Sampson, who builds on research done by the late James Coleman, a renowned University sociologist.
Researchers asked the study participants if adults and children in their neighborhoods are linked to one another (intergenerational closure), the extent to which adults share information about neighborhood children (reciprocated transaction) and whether neighbors are willing to provide informal social control and mutual support for children. This allowed the researchers to gauge how well members of a neighborhood work together to achieve common goals. The responses then were analyzed to determine patterns based on economic and demographic characteristics within the neighborhood clusters and their spatial location in the city.
Among their findings are these: