SJU Sociologist’s Research Aims to Help At-Risk Youth

In-depth interviews reveal factors that influence transitions to adulthood

Thursday, September 9, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (September 9, 2010) — Assistant Professor of Sociology Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Ph.D., spent the summer revisiting Baltimore, a city she says she loves almost as much as Philadelphia. According to Clampet-Lundquist, Baltimore is one of those places ripe with learning opportunities for a sociologist interested in the inner-workings of urban neighborhoods and how places inform lives.

Her return visit was funded with over $400,000 from the W.T. Grant Foundation to follow up with families who were part of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) initiative of the mid-‘90s. MTO is a federal research-based demonstration that offers the chance for very low-income families living in public housing to move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Clampet-Lundquist, along with Kathryn Edin, Ph.D., of Harvard and Stefanie DeLuca, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins, spent the summer working with a team of graduate students interviewing young adults (ages 15-24) whose familes signed up for MTO. They sought to understand how MTO may have improved their well-being, and how youth transition to adulthood, particularly in the areas of education, employment, family formation, risk behavior and mental health.

“There’s been a great deal of research on transitions to adulthood,” said Clampet-Lundquist. “But the majority of this research does not look specifically at low-income young people. I’m interested in what happens to economically disadvantaged kids who don’t have access to the same opportunities as middle-class youth.”

Ultimately, Clampet-Lundquist hopes her summer research in Baltimore will inform policy regarding public housing and community development programs aimed at improving the health and well-being of American at-risk youth.

Clampet-Lundquist’s first study of MTO families uncovered some unexpected gender differences that she says the follow-up study seeks to better understand.

“An earlier survey found that girls who moved to low-poverty neighborhoods fared better than boys,” she explained. “There was a benefit for the girls in terms of risk behaviors that the boys were not experiencing and our research suggested that this may be related to their ability to fit in better with the norms in the new neighborhoods and schools.”

Clampet-Lundquist admits that countless hours of interviews in 2003 can be difficult to pore through and analyze, but that they garner much richer insights. She plans to use SJU students to help as the project moves forward.

“I enjoy conducting research using in-depth interviews because it offers researchers an insight into the process through which policies can make a difference in the lives of individuals,” she added. “For example, if a housing mobility policy like MTO benefits girls more than boys, we want to understand why so that we can put into place more supports for boys. By letting young people tell their own stories, we can understand what is going on behind the statistics.”

Clampet-Lundquist has an article about outcomes for MTO teens in Baltimore and Chicago forthcoming in the American Journal of Sociology, and plans to author more articles on the topic. She holds two master’s degrees, one from Temple University and the other from the University of Pennsylvania, where she also earned her doctoral degree in sociology.


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Kelly Welsh, Senior Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-1385,


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