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SBE Distinguished Lecture Series: Karl Alexander

About this event

NSF Distinguished Lecture Series in Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences

Wednesday, December 10, 11:00am, Room 110

Dr. Karl Alexander

Johns Hopkins University

"The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood"

What are the connections between the early-life opportunities of inner-city, low income children and their long-term well-being as adults?  Are the images of a perpetual "urban underclass" depicted on television by shows like The Wire accurate?  In fact, the connections are complex and the real question is: who succeeds and why?

Over 25 years, the research team of Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson tracked the life progress of a group of almost 800 predominantly low-income Baltimore school children through the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP). They paid attention to how opportunities available to children as early as first grade shaped their socioeconomic status as adults.  Combining original interviews with families, teachers, and other community members with demographic and personal data, they closely examined achievements such as occupational outcomes and personal milestones. 

Differences in race and gender mattered, independent of education and skills. Racial and gender imbalances between inner-city Whites and African Americans and women and men  were evident in this city where manufacturing jobs collapsed in the 1970s and public resources were subsequently scarce. 

Karl Alexander is Academy Professor and Research Professor of Sociology, having retired as the John Dewey Professor of Sociology in 2014 after 42 years at Hopkins.  He received his Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Alexander chaired the Department of Sociology at Hopkins from 1985 to 1993, 2006 - 2009 and 2011 - 2014.  He and colleague Doris Entwisle directed the Baltimore-based Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP), a long-term study of youth development, from 1982 to 2006.  With various colleagues, his work with the BSSYP has resulted in more than 70 journal articles and book chapters and three books, the most recent being The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood  (Russell Sage 2014).  Prominent issues addressed include studies of summer learning loss, high school dropout and grade retention. His interests center on schools and problems of educational stratification that can be addressed via organizational, social-psychological, and life course perspectives.