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Looking at Lives

Looking at Lives: American Longitudinal Studies of the Twentieth Century

Erin Phelps
Frank F. Furstenberg
Anne Colby
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Looking at Lives
    Book Description:

    The impact of long-term longitudinal studies on the landscape of twentieth century social and behavioral science cannot be overstated. The field of life course studies has grown exponentially since its inception in the 1950s, and now influences methodologies as well as expectations for all academic research.Looking at Livesoffers an unprecedented "insider's view" into the intentions, methods, and findings of researchers engaged in some of the 20th century's landmark studies. In this volume, eminent American scholars-many of them pioneers in longitudinal studies-provide frank and illuminating insights into the difficulties and the unique scientific benefits of mounting studies that track people's lives over a long period of time.

    Looking at Livesincludes studies from a range of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, and education, which together cover a span of more than fifty years. The contributors pay particular attention to the changing historical, cultural, and scientific context of their work, as well as the theoretical and methodological changes that have occurred in their fields over decades. What emerges is a clear indication of the often unexpected effects these studies have had on public policies and public opinion-especially as they relate to such issues as the connection between poverty and criminal behavior, or the consequences of teen-age pregnancy and drug use for inner-city youth. For example, David Weikart reveals how his long-term research on preschool intervention projects, begun in 1959, permitted him to show how surprisingly effective preschool education can be in improving the lives of disadvantaged children. In another study, John Laub and Robert Sampson build on findings from a groundbreaking study begun by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck in the 1950s to reveal the myriad ways in which juvenile delinquency can predict criminal behavior in adults. And Arland Thornton, Ronald Freedman, and William Axinn employ an intergenerational study of women and their children begun in 1962 to examine the substantial relaxation of social mores for family and individual behavior in the latter decades of the 20th century.

    Looking at Livesis full of striking testimony to the importance of long-term, longitudinal studies. As a unique chronicle of the origins and development of longitudinal studies in America, this collection will be an invaluable aid to 21st century investigators who seek to build on the successes and the experiences of the pioneers in life-course studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-450-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)

    • Introduction Looking at Lives: American Longitudinal Studies of the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 3-14)
      Erin Phelps and Anne Colby

      Anne Colby and Frank Furstenberg attended a meeting in the spring of 1996. During a walk at the lunch break, their conversation turned to the rigors of conducting lifelong studies, the singular benefits of following participants’ lives through time, and the curious ways that a longitudinal perspective transforms the research process. They had discussed these sorts of issues before, but this time a spark was lit. Anne Colby recruited her colleague Erin Phelps to join the process of writing a proposal that resulted in a conference at the Henry A. Murray Research Center in the spring of 1999. The papers...

    • Chapter 1 Longitudinal Studies and Life-Course Research: Innovations, Investigators, and Policy Ideas
      (pp. 15-36)
      Janet Zollinger Giele

      The significant studies of the life course that are represented in this volume can be seen as markers of a general intellectual movement that took place in developmental psychology, sociology, and history after World War II. This new perspective was apparent in four key trends. First, development of the individual began to be more widely understood as resulting from a combination of ontogenetic unfolding of the organism and socializing influences from the environment (Brim and Kagan 1980). Second, the potential for change in a person’s life was increasingly seen as extending across the whole life span, from childhood and adolescence...

    • Chapter 2 How It Takes Thirty Years to Do a Study
      (pp. 37-58)
      Frank F. Furstenberg Jr.

      Longitudinal research is ineluctably reflexive. Investigators must confront the errors or misdirections in their studies that have occurred in the past even as they take steps to correct them in the future; they are compelled to wrestle with the changing historical and social context in which they and their subjects are situated; and ultimately they must take account of personal ideas and ambitions altered by the passage of time and career transitions. It is this intersection between the history and lives of subjects and the researcher that gives longitudinal research its distinctive mark. Investigators find themselves in the position of...


    • Chapter 3 Looking Backward: Post Hoc Reflections on Longitudinal Surveys
      (pp. 61-86)
      Frank L. Mott

      The concept of a career is far from unique, as it can be viewed in so many ways in a longitudinal context. Indeed, in important respects, a career can best be defined retrospectively, once one can look backward and turn a continuing series of events into an intellectual whole. Even then, one must be careful not to inadvertently reconstruct a disconnected work history into something it is not.

      In my case, although there was significant intellectual continuity, there also has been considerable serendipity. The continuity has to do with my having an essentially quantitative and social science orientation. The serendipity...

    • Chapter 4 Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck’s Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency Study: The Lives of 1,000 Boston Men in the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 87-115)
      John H. Laub and Robert J. Sampson

      Social behavior occurs in particular times and particular places, in concert with particular social actors. The implication of this fact is that individual development can be understood only in the specific historical context in which it occurs. Extending this idea further, it can be argued that social science studies and the principal investigators of those studies need to be situated in historical contexts as well. Yet the thrust of current social science research is seemingly just the opposite. National samples, generalization, and invariant causal imageries dominate the landscape. Researchers almost appear embarrassed to situate their studies or themselves in history,...

    • Chapter 5 The Study of Adult Development
      (pp. 116-132)
      George E. Vaillant

      In his introduction to Lewis Terman’s four-decade study of gifted children,Genetic Studies of Genius,Robert Sears described the project thus: “Only among the chroniclers of the stars and the waters have such prolonged studies of individual objects been made heretofore. We can be grateful for the courage and the vision of the man who finally broke the barrier of the limited lifetime allotted to anyone researcher and got underway a study of man that will encompass the life span of the subjects’ lives, not just those of the researchers” (Sears 1959, ix). Forty years later, the Henry A. Murray...

    • Chapter 6 The PSID and Me
      (pp. 133-164)
      Greg J. Duncan

      As part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) directed the U.S. Bureau of the Census to conduct a nationwide assessment of the extent to which the new program was affecting people’s economic well-being. This Census Bureau study, called the Survey of Economic Opportunity, completed interviews with about thirty thousand households, first in 1966 and again in 1967.

      Interest in continuing this survey of economic “trajectories” (the other war going on at the time contributed its share of metaphors to the poverty debate), compounded by a desire to avoid Census Bureau bureaucracy, led James...


    • Chapter 7 Baltimore Beginning School Study in Perspective
      (pp. 167-193)
      Doris R. Entwisle, Karl L. Alexander and Linda Steffel Olson

      The Baltimore Beginning School Study (BSS) crystallized around 1980. In contrast with most of the other studies described in this volume, the BSS began closer to the end of Doris Entwisle’s career than to its beginning. For a number of years, Entwisle’s research had been circling around a vexing question: What is schooling? This question was especially perplexing because at that time, variables related to school organization, such as promotion policies, class size, racial mix, or types of curriculum, to name a few, did not explain much variance in children’s achievement. As Entwisle became convinced of these seemingly negligible effects...

    • Chapter 8 Historical Times and Lives: A Journey Through Time and Space
      (pp. 194-218)
      Glen H. Elder Jr.

      Research advances of some note often stem from modest beginnings. This observation applies to empirical studies of historical times in people’s lives, a central theme of my research career and of this chapter. The stimulus for this line of work owes much to psychologists who launched a series of longitudinal studies of child development more than seventy years ago at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (Elder 1998b). In sociology, W. L Thomas provided support in the 1920s with the claim that priority should be given to the “longitudinal approach to life history,” and that studies should investigate...

    • Chapter 9 Phenomenological Perspectives on Natural History Research: The Longitudinal Harlem Adolescent Cohort Study
      (pp. 219-244)
      Ann F. Brunswick

      What a challenge, to recapitulate—as the editors of this book of papers from the Landmark Conference on longitudinal studies requested—experiences from a thirty-year broadly scoped life-history study of an African American cohort and compress them into a single chapter in a book. The editors’ charge was to move beyond particular findings and search out their personal meaning and impact on both my professional and personal life; to consider their social policy implications and their implications for the conduct of longitudinal research. This required a shift away from the neutral, objective stance to which the scientist usually aspires to...

    • Chapter 10 The Origin and Development of Preschool Intervention Projects
      (pp. 245-264)
      David P. Weikart

      When i began my professional career, I was not thinking of long term studies and clearly defined goals. I was eager for professional challenges but ignorant, really, of where those challenges would eventually take me. A researcher does not wake up one morning and say, “Today I’ll begin that forty-year study I’ve been thinking about!” Instead, such efforts emerge from a gradual accretion of ideas assembled and executed one experience at a time; at least that is the way it has been for me. When my first project idea, the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, began to form in 1959, it...


    • Chapter 11 Plotting Developmental Pathways: Methods, Measures, Models, and Madness
      (pp. 267-296)
      Robert B. Cairns and Beverley D. Cairns

      “How did you find me here?” Marylou blurted out, when we located her for the annual assessment at fourteen years of age. “I just can’t believe you found me. I know you said you would, but I didn’t really believe you. Will you find me again next year . . . . Promise?”

      Marylou was crying as she spoke. She had just lived through a miserable year. She and her sister had been abandoned by their mother, placed in a foster home, removed from it to return to their mother, rejected anew by the mother after three weeks, placed in...

    • Chapter 12 Looking for Trouble in Paradise: Some Lessons Learned from the Kauai Longitudinal Study
      (pp. 297-314)
      Emmy E. Werner

      I first learned about longitudinal studies in the spring of 1949, in an unlikely setting. My classroom was in the barracks that had remained intact amid the rubble of a bombed-out city on the Rhine—the core of what would become the Johannes-Gutenberg Universitäit in Mainz. I was in my second semester as a psychology student. My professors had come from the University of Leipzig, where Wilhelm Wundt had founded the science of psychology in the late 1800s. They had fled to West Germany to escape the Communist takeover in the eastern part of the country.

      My instructor in developmental...

    • Chapter 13 Intergenerational Panel Study of Parents and Children
      (pp. 315-344)
      Arland Thornton, Ronald Freedman and William G. Axinn

      In 1962, David Goldberg and Ronald Freedman began a modest longitudinal study in the Detroit area with a probability sample of women who had married or who had borne a first, second, or fourth child in 1961. The first interview wave was conducted early in 1962, just as the baby boom was ending. The study sought to investigate the subsequent fertility of these women and the stability and changes in their desired, expected, and realized family size. Ronald Freedman was principally responsible, with the considerable assistance of Lolagene Coombs, for the first three waves of follow-up interviews, conducted in 1962,...


    • Chapter 14 Generativity, Identity, and the Proclamation of Landmarks
      (pp. 347-366)
      John Modell

      The conference at which the antecedents of this volume’s papers were presented was titled “Landmark Studies,” a compelling imagery, and one that led demonstrably to a set of papers and attendant discussion that sought fruitfully to place key longitudinal studies into an emergent historical-methodological framework. As I thought about the notion of “landmark,” I was struck by the choice of a geographical metaphor rather than a developmental one; a landmark is a prominent element in an environment by which navigators, travelers, and even (in a pleasing note included in my dictionary) surgeons can orient themselves, so that they may move...

  10. Index
    (pp. 367-378)