Patrick Sharkey

Associated Professor of Public Service, NYU Wagner; Professor, NYU Department of Sociology

(212) 998-8366
295 Lafayette St., Room 4102
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Patrick Sharkey

Patrick Sharkey is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at New York University. He is Scientific Director at Crime Lab New York, and is affiliated with NYU's Robert F. Wagner School for Public Service. At NYU, Sharkey teaches undergraduate courses on urban policy, crime, and violence, and doctoral courses in statistics and criminology. He recently returned from a year living in Nepal, and now lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.



Social scientists have long been concerned with the role of space in systems of stratification. While scholars in the field of ‘neighborhood effects’ have typically focused on how a community affects the life chances of its residents, we argue for a broader view of neighborhood effects that considers how spatial stratification serves to maintain and reproduce inequality across multiple dimensions. This article outlines major theoretical arguments exploring how local residential contexts affect social and economic outcomes at the level of individuals and communities, drawing attention to the empirical challenges to measuring neighborhood effects.



The literature on neighborhood effects frequently is evaluated or interpreted in relation to the question, “Do neighborhoods matter?” We argue that this question has had a disproportionate influence on the field and does not align with the complexity of theoretical models of neighborhood effects or empirical findings that have arisen from the literature. In this article, we focus on empirical work that considers how different dimensions of individuals' residential contexts become salient in their lives, how contexts influence individuals' lives over different timeframes, how individuals are affected by social processes operating at different scales, and how residential contexts influence the lives of individuals in heterogeneous ways. In other words, we review research that examines where, when, why, and for whom do residential contexts matter. Using the large literature on neighborhoods and educational and cognitive outcomes as an example, the research we review suggests that any attempt to reduce the literature to a single answer about whether neighborhoods matter is misguided. We call for a more flexible study of context effects in which theory, measurement, and methods are more closely aligned with the specific mechanisms and social processes under study.


Ethnographic studies of the black middle class focus attention on the ways in which residential environments condition the experiences of different segments of the black class structure. This study places these arguments in a larger demographic context by providing a national analysis of neighborhood inequality and spatial inequality of different racial and ethnic groups in urban America. The findings show that there has been no change over time in the degree to which majority-black neighborhoods are surrounded by spatial disadvantage. Predominantly black neighborhoods, regardless of socioeconomic composition, continue to be spatially linked with areas of severe disadvantage. However, there has been substantial change in the degree to which middle- and upper-income African-American households have separated themselves from highly disadvantaged neighborhoods. These changes are driven primarily by the growing segment of middle- and upper-income African-Americans living in neighborhoods in which they are not the majority group, both in central cities and in suburbs.



In a 2011 public opinion poll, The Pew Charitable Trusts asked Americans how important they thought a number of factors were in determining whether people in the United States get ahead or fall behind economically. More than 80 percent of respondents identified factors such as hard work, ambition, and access to education as key drivers of upward mobility, while less than half viewed growing up in a good neighborhood as an important factor. On the contrary, respondents strongly agreed that a young person with drive, ambition, and creativity growing up in a poor neighborhood is more likely to get ahead economically than someone growing up in a more affluent neighborhood who lacks those attributes.

Contrary to these perceptions, however, evidence is building that location actually matters a great deal and that Americans’ economic mobility prospects vary by state, locality, and even neighborhood.

For example, a 2009 Pew study indicated that a person who experienced high neighborhood poverty throughout childhood had a much higher risk of moving down the economic ladder as an adult. Other recent research examining mobility among metropolitan areas, including nearby towns and rural areas, showed that economic mobility varied widely across these localities. And, in a 2012, first-of-its-kind analysis of Americans’ economic mobility at the state level, Pew found that a number of states, primarily in the Mideast and New England regions, had higher mobility than the national average, and other states, primarily in the South, had lower mobility. 

This report adds to the growing body of research as it examines economic mobility across 96 U.S. metropolitan areas and the role of place in Americans’ prospects of moving up or down the economic ladder. It also offers insight on why and how location matters. Although a host of factors, such as state and local policies and labor market conditions, could influence mobility, this analysis considers one: neighborhood economic segregation, or the degree to which the poor and the wealthy live apart from each other. To begin to answer this question, Pew commissioned original research that, using three longitudinal data sets, measures differences in economic mobility across American metro areas over the last generation and identifies above-average-, average-, and below-average-mobility areas. The analysis then looks at whether metro areas’ rates of economic segregation are related to their rates of economic mobility.


In the 1960s, many believed that the civil rights movement’s successes would foster a new era of racial equality in America. Four decades later, the degree of racial inequality has barely changed. To understand what went wrong, Patrick Sharkey argues that we have to understand what has happened to African American communities over the last several decades. In Stuck in Place, Sharkey describes how political decisions and social policies have led to severe disinvestment from black neighborhoods, persistent segregation, declining economic opportunities, and a growing link between African American communities and the criminal justice system.

As a result, neighborhood inequality that existed in the 1970s has been passed down to the current generation of African Americans. Some of the most persistent forms of racial inequality, such as gaps in income and test scores, can only be explained by considering the neighborhoods in which black and white families have lived over multiple generations. This multigenerational nature of neighborhood inequality also means that a new kind of urban policy is necessary for our nation’s cities. Sharkey argues for urban policies that have the potential to create transformative and sustained changes in urban communities and the families that live within them, and he outlines a durable urban policy agenda to move in that direction.


Winner of the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, Eastern Sociological Society.

Winner of The American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE Award) in Sociology and Social Work. ​



Objectives: We examined whether the burden of violence in a child’s community environment alters the child’s behavior and functioning in the classroom setting. 

Methods: To identify the effects of local violence, we exploited variation in the timing of local homicides, based on data from the Chicago Police Department, relative to the timing of interview assessments conducted as part of a randomized controlled trial conducted with preschoolers in Head Start programs from 2004–2006, the Chicago School Readiness Project. We compared children’s scores when exposed to recent local violence with scores when no recent violence had occurred to identify causal effects.

Results: When children were assessed within a week of a homicide that occurred near their home, they exhibited lower levels of attention and impulse control and lower preacademic skills. The analysis showed strong positive effects of local violence on parental distress, providing suggestive evidence that parental responses may be a likely pathway by which local violence affects young children.

Conclusions: Exposure to homicide generates acute psychological distress among caregivers and impairs children’s self-regulatory behavior and cognitive functioning.


Housing assistance policy has shifted away from project-based assistance toward tenantbased assistance. This shift in approach reflects a common assumption that, if families have the option to find homes on their own in the private market, they will seek out better quality homes in racially diverse neighborhoods with lower levels of poverty. This article presents evidence to qualify this assumption by highlighting the limits of residential mobility in reducing, in any substantive way, the degree of racial and ethnic inequality in urban America. Two empirical observations form the basis of the argument. The first observation is that residential mobility typically serves to reproduce urban inequality instead of disrupting it. The second is that urban inequality is resilient: even when individuals or families make moves that disrupt patterns of racial and ethnic inequality, the changes such moves induce are undermined by system-level processes that serve to reproduce inequality in the urban landscape. As a result, changes in families’ neighborhood environments arising from residential mobility are often temporary and are diluted by subsequent changes occurring around families. The article concludes with a discussion of implications for housing assistance policy.

Sharkey, Patrick.. Temporary Integration, Resilient Inequality: Race and Neighborhood Change in the Transition to Adulthood. Demography



Rising income inequality has been found to be associated with rising segregation at the neighborhood level, generating concern about whether neighborhood environments themselves may influence children’s life chances, independent of other individual child and family characteristics. Because poor and minority Americans are overrepresented in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods, any “neighborhood effects” on children may contribute to persistent disparities in overall schooling outcomes across race and class lines in the United States.

A large body of nonexperimental research dating back to the Coleman Report in 1966 has produced evidence consistent with the idea of large neighborhood effects on children’s schooling outcomes. However, drawing causal inferences from these studies is complicated by the fact that the attributes of a neighborhood in which a family lives is likely correlated with characteristics of the family that predict schooling outcomes. These studies are therefore vulnerable to selection bias. The one formal randomized experiment in this literature is the five-city Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment, data from which suggests no statistically significant impacts, on average, on reading or math test scores for children in MTO measured four to seven years after baseline. How one should weight the findings from the MTO experiment versus the larger body of nonexperimental research remains the topic of ongoing debate within the research and policy communities.

In this chapter, we try to reconcile the experimental, quasi-experimental, and observational research literature regarding neighborhood effects on children, and we argue that the available findings are more convergent than many people believe. Drawing on a number of recent and unusually high-quality quasi-experimental and observational studies, together with a reexamination of MTO findings across the individual MTO demonstration sites, we believe that the available - 3 - evidence allows us to reject the null hypothesis that neighborhood environments never matter for children’s outcomes. Yet at the same time, the data also do not support the hypothesis that neighborhoods always matter.

In our view, the key question for research and public policy is to learn more about the conditions under which neighborhoods matter for children’s academic outcomes and why. Our ability to answer this question in the present chapter is restricted by the limited number of studies that have employed sufficiently strong research designs to support inferences about neighborhood effects on children’s outcomes, and by the fact that a disproportionate share of the studies that meet this research-design threshold have been carried out in a single city (Chicago).

With these important qualifications in mind, we believe that there is at least a suggestive case to be made that children’s test scores may be most strongly affected by community violence or may respond nonlinearly to concentrated neighborhood disadvantage or community violence. Put differently, what may matter most for children’s cognitive development is to avoid living in the most severely economically distressed or dangerous neighborhoods in the country, neighborhoods that are found in cities like Baltimore and Chicago but, surprisingly, are less prevalent even in other major urban areas such as Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. Given the limitations of the available evidence, we offer these as hypotheses to be tested further rather than as strong conclusions.


This study examines how the neighborhood environments experienced over multiple generations of a family influence children's cognitive ability. Building on recent research showing strong continuity in neighborhood environments across generations of family members, the authors argue for a revised perspective on “neighborhood effects” that considers the ways in which the neighborhood environment in one generation may have a lingering impact on the next generation. To analyze multigenerational effects, the authors use newly developed methods designed to estimate unbiased treatment effects when treatments and confounders vary over time. The results confirm a powerful link between neighborhoods and cognitive ability that extends across generations. A family's exposure to neighborhood poverty across two consecutive generations reduces child cognitive ability by more than half a standard deviation. A formal sensitivity analysis suggests that results are robust to unobserved selection bias.



Two landmark policy interventions to improve the lives of youth through neighborhood mobility—the Gautreaux program in Chicago and the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiments in five cities—have produced conflicting results and have created a puzzle with broad implications: Do residential moves between neighborhoods increase or decrease violence, or both? To address this question, we analyze data from a subsample of adolescents ages 9–12 years from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, a longitudinal study of children and their families that began in Chicago—the site of the original Gautreaux program and one of the MTO experiments. We propose a dynamic modeling strategy to separate the effects of residential moving across three waves of the study from dimensions of neighborhood change and metropolitan location. The results reveal countervailing effects of mobility on trajectories of violence; whereas neighborhood moves within Chicago lead to an increased risk of violence, moves outside the city reduce violent offending and exposure to violence. The gap in violence between movers within and outside Chicago is explained not only by the racial and economic composition of the destination neighborhoods but also by the quality of school contexts, adolescents' perceived control over their new environment, and fear. These findings highlight the need to simultaneously consider residential mobility, mechanisms of neighborhood change, and the wider geography of structural opportunity.


This study estimates the acute effect of exposure to a local homicide on the cognitive performance of children across a community. Data are from a sample of children age 5–17 y in the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. The effect of local homicides on vocabulary and reading assessments is identified by exploiting exogenous variation in the relative timing of homicides and interview assessments among children in the same neighborhood but assessed at different times. Among African-Americans, the strongest results show that exposure to a homicide in the block group that occurs less than a week before the assessment reduces performance on vocabulary and reading assessments by between ∼0.5 and ∼0.66 SD, respectively. Main results are replicated using a second independent dataset from Chicago. Findings suggest the need for broader recognition of the impact that extreme acts of violence have on children across a neighborhood, regardless of whether the violence is witnessed directly.



Disparities in verbal ability, a major predictor of later life outcomes, have generated widespread debate, but few studies have been able to isolate neighborhood-level causes in a developmentally and ecologically appropriate way. This study 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. AfricanAmerican children are exposed in such disproportionate numbers to concentrated disadvantage that white and Latino children cannot be reliably compared, calling into question traditional research strategies assuming common points of overlap in ecological risk. We therefore focus on trajectories of verbal ability among African-American children, extending recently developed counterfactual methods for time-varying causes and outcomes to adjust for a wide range of predictors of selection into and out of neighborhoods. The results indicate that living in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood reduces the later verbal ability of black children on average by 4 points, a magnitude that rivals missing a year or more of schooling.


This article draws on the extensive literature on economic and social mobility in America to examine intergenerational contextual mobility, defined as the degree to which inequalities in neighborhood environments persist across generations. PSID data are analyzed to reveal remarkable continuity in neighborhood economic status from one generation to the next. The primary consequence of persistent neighborhood stratification is that the racial inequality in America's neighborhoods that existed a generation ago has been transmitted, for the most part unchanged, to the current generation. More than 70% of black children who grow up in the poorest quarter of American neighborhoods remain in the poorest quarter of neighborhoods as adults, compared to 40% of whites. The results suggest that racial inequality in neighborhood economic status is substantially underestimated with short-term measures of neighborhood income or poverty and, second, that the steps taken to end racial discrimination in the housing and lending markets have not enabled black Americans to advance out of America's poorest neighborhoods.



Hurricane Katrina has been interpreted as both a “metaphor” for the racial inequality that characterizes urban America and as a purely “natural” disaster that happened to strike a predominantly Black city. To resolve these conflicting interpretations, the author analyzes data on New Orleans residents who died during Katrina in an effort to provide an empirical look at the groups most directly affected by the hurricane. Contrary to prior reports in the popular press, the author finds that the impact of the storm was felt most acutely by the elderly population in New Orleans and by Blacks, who were much more likely to die than would be expected given their presence in the population. Data on the locations of recovered bodies also show that Katrina took its largest toll in New Orleans’s Black community. These findings confirm the impression that race was deeply implicated in the tragedy of Katrina.



The concept of street efficacy, defined as the perceived ability to avoid violent confrontations and to be safe in one's neighborhood, is proposed as a mechanism connecting aspects of adolescents' "imposed" environments to the choices they make in creating their own "selected" environments that minimize the potential for violent confrontations. Empirical models using data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods suggest that street efficacy is substantially influenced by various aspects of the social context surrounding adolescents. Adolescents who live in neighborhoods with concentrated disadvantage and low collective efficacy, respectively, are found to have less confidence in their ability to avoid violence after controlling for an extensive set of individual- and family-level factors. Exposure to violence also reduces street efficacy, although it does not explain the association between collective efficacy and individual street efficacy. Adolescents' confidence in their ability to avoid violence is shown to be an important predictor of the types of environments they select for themselves. In particular, adolescents with high levels of street efficacy are less likely to resort to violence themselves or to associate with delinquent peers.



This paper provides new evidence to inform the policy debate about the effect of a newly important industry—the temporary help industry—on the labor market outcomes of low-income workers and those workers who are at risk of being on public assistance. The core issue of whether temporary help work harms the long-term prospects of disadvantaged individuals depends critically on the alternatives available to the worker. Temporary employment results in labor market outcomes that are better than not working at all. For example, while nonemployed public assistance recipients have only a 35 percent chance of being employed a year later, those who were in temporary employment have almost twice the likelihood of being employed in the same period. These findings, if correct, would support the use of temporary agencies by welfare programs.



This report examines the ability of homeless people to get the health care they need. In particular, it asks whether having health insurance increases access to care for homeless people, as it does for the housed population.

Within the general rubric of health care we include treatment for physical health, mental health, and substance abuse problems. We look at two types of health insurance, Medicaid and “other” health insurance, which, for the homeless population, is largely Medicare or veterans health benefits. We also examine other factors that affect receipt of care, including use of homeless assistance services, homeless history, physical and mental health and substance abuse conditions, receipt of public cash benefits, geographic location, and demographic characteristics.


The purpose of this project was to examine Continuums of Care for homeless people throughout the United States, to understand their development, their current structure, and their likely future. A Continuum of Care (CoC) is, ideally, a system for helping people who are or have been homeless or who are at imminent risk of homelessness. A full CoC includes prevention, outreach and assessment, emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing, plus supportive services in all components. HUD has promoted the CoC concept through much of the 1990s, and has structured its competitive funding under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to further CoC development.

This study sought to answer several questions about the ways in which local communities are organized into CoCs to address homelessness:

• What do local homeless assistance networks look like, how do they work, and whom do they serve?

• Are all the important players, or their representatives, included in planning the local CoC and coordinating their programs and services?

• How well are homeless and mainstream services integrated?

• What goals is each jurisdiction trying to accomplish with its CoC—helping homeless people, ending homelessness, or some combination—and how does its concept of its “continuum” further those goals?

• What role does data or statistics about homeless people, services, and program performance play in the planning process and in decisions about what to support?

• How has the HUD requirement for a coordinated community-wide application affected development of CoCs, client access to and receipt of needed programs and services, inclusion of relevant homeless-specific and mainstream players, and data-based decision making?


One of the most dramatic findings to emerge from the 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC) is the tremendous growth in the number and variety of homeless assistance programs during the late 1980s and early 1990s. While much of this growth has been fueled by new investments of public funds, most faithbased non-profits operate with little or no government funding, yet they play a critical role in helping homeless people.

This study examines data from NSHAPC to determine more thoroughly the role that faith-based programs play in the larger context of homeless assistance. The study has an explicit focus on comparing homeless assistance programs administered by faith-based versus secular non-profit service agencies. It provides a basic but comprehensive picture of the numbers and characteristics of the two types of homeless assistance programs.

The NSHAPC data are drawn from a comprehensive nationally representative survey of programs providing homeless assistance services and the clients of these programs. All questions used for this analysis come from the survey of program administrators.



The role of alternative work arrangements—temporary help, independent contractors, on-call workers, and contract company workers—has caught the attention of both policymakers and academic researchers alike. Current research indicates that 1 in 10 workers are employed in one of these four alternative work arrangements and employment in the temporary help services industry grew five times as fast as overall non-farm employment between 1972 and 1997. This growth is likely to have important implications for low-income workers, particularly since the establishment of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, authorized by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, which dramatically transformed the nation's welfare system. This welfare reform, in conjunction with a strong economy, has resulted in an increasing number of low-income individuals entering the labor force. Thus, alternative work arrangements, especially for those with limited work histories, might be expected to be a natural pathway to work for such workers. However, little is known about the prevalence of alternative work arrangements as a gateway into the labor force or the resulting labor market outcomes for low-income workers and those at risk of welfare dependency. The goal of this project was to examine the role of alternative work arrangements in today's labor market, paying particular attention to the effect of such arrangements on low-income workers in alternative arrangements and those at risk of being on public assistance.