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The University of Chicago Population Research Center

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Methods and Tools

The methods and tools developed by PRC scholars are a great asset to population research and the PRC's focus on social and human capital in the urban context. These developments occur primarily in:


Statistical Methods

From the beginning of the PRC's history, PRC scholars have been developing new statistical methods. James Heckman, conducting analysis of censored data using survival analysis and other techniques, has made seminal contributions to the statistical tools available to demographers and statistical methodology, in general. Stephen Raudenbush, with co-author Tony Bryk, wrote the book on Hierarchical Linear Models and is at the forefront of methodological innovation related to nested structures. Many other PRC research associates are continuing to contribute statistical tools and guidance in the uses of new techniques. Lars Hansen is a macroeconomist and econometrician who specializes in risk and valuation and in operator methods and acts as the founding Director of the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics. Kazuo Yamaguchi describes a method of using multinomial logit latent-class regression models in sociological research, the categorical analogue of latent-variable regression for continuous latent variables like those used in LISREL. The models are, he points out, regression extensions of log-linear latent-class models with group variables. Colm O'Muircheartaigh continues the development of novel sampling approaches and contributions to survey methodology. His expertise is critical to a number of large-scale on-going studies (e.g., PSID) and he has been active in methods related to the National Children's Study.

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New Data Sets

The production of new data sets that address the concerns of the PRC's major research focus, social and human capital in the urban context, is another place where PRC scholars are doing novel work. The production and analysis of new data that speaks to the three major research foci of the PRC engage the many disciplines brought together in the PRC, and speak to the goals of policy analysis and research of the PRC. The '500 Family Study' conducted by Barbara Schneider and Linda Waite has generated its own edited volume. Several sexual health studies by Edward Laumann and Robert Michael have created in depth national data sets and added sexual health components to other national data sets. The NSHAP Survey, crafted by Waite, Kate Cagney, Laumann, and O'Muircheartaigh, is in its second wave. O'Muircheartaigh, also NORC Vice President for the Statistics and Methodology Division, was a central actor in the design of the sample and the construction of the sampling weights for the NLSY97 data set and continues to play a key role in the sampling and field decisions on the study. Some very important data is generated not through the PRC's efforts but through the collaborations and academic networks developed through the center. Cagney's Neighborhood Organization, Aging, and Health Study was developed with the assistance of David Meltzer and Waite.

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Integrating New Data and Analysis in the Social Sciences

PRC scholars produce work that integrates computational demography, biological data and novel uses of GIS and spatial analysis with the social sciences.


We define computational demography as an interdisciplinary collection of theoretical perspectives and methodological frameworks that exploit computation (data, methods, software and hardware) as a central instrument facilitating scientific discovery using new and emerging big data in population and health research. Our focus on computational demography brings new members to the PRC. Charlie Catlett and Kate Cagney collaborate on a number of projects and currently hold two NSF grants meant to create connections between computer and social scientists. Catlett, Cagney and Ian Foster work together on the Lakeside initiative, which involves projects based in SSD and Argonne National Labs. Catlett's UrbanCCD center houses Data Science for Social Good, the program Rayid Ghani developed and directs. Cagney and Ben Keys act as mentors in that program, bringing "domain" knowledge to the set of (primarily) computer science and physics graduate students who are selected for the ten-week intensive program. Ghani is Research Director for the Computation Institute, which Foster directs. James Evans, a sociologist, has worked closely with this group. He uses machine learning, generative modeling, and social and semantic network representations to explore knowledge processes. He directs the Knowledge Lab and the Computational Social Science Workshop. With support from the Provost's office and a now established relationship with the Computation Institute we aim to understand how new methods and newly available data can alter the questions we ask and the methods we use to answer them.


The collaboration of NORC and the University of Chicago is in the collection of biological data in large-scale studies, particularly the collection of this biological data in the field. The work of John Cacioppo and Martha McClintock illustrates the relationship between social context and health through the inclusion of health data in social science studies. Including these bio-measures in social science surveys has the benefits of exposing existing medical conditions, illuminating the connections between social contexts and health conditions, and providing objective indicators to match up with self-reported data. Cacioppo researches the health factors that are affected by loneliness. McClintock's contribution to the NSHAP project examines the connection between the estrogonization of vaginal cells, sexual health and overall health. Linda Waite directs the NSHAP Wave 2 project in which McClintock's research is included and which is one of the first population studies that includes biological markers in studies of social life and health among older people. Jens Ludwig investigates how residential relocation affects disease risk. Kate Cagney also investigates the role that residential location plays in health, using data from the Dallas Heart Study.


A great deal of PRC scholar's research has employed GIS and spatial analysis in novel ways. The use of GIS and spatial analysis is particularly suited to the PRC's neighborhood-based studies of environmental factors of children, youth and family development, as well as the environmental determinants of health. GIS and other forms of spatial analysis are of use to illustrate the connection between location and any number of social or health factors. Kate Cagney's research on the connection between health and poverty, particularly her study of mortality during the 1995 Chicago heat wave, has employed GIS data. Similar uses of GIS technologies by PRC scholars include Steve Raudenbush's research on the connection of neighborhood location to health and well-being. Jens Ludwig's research employs GIS to examine the connections of neighborhood factors to social outcomes. David Melzter's research uses GIS to interrogate the connection between neighborhood location and hospital readmission rates.

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