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The Woodlawn Project: History

The Woodlawn Project began in partnership with the Chicago Board of Health, the University of Chicago, and the Chicago public and parochial schools in 1966 and continues today. Theories of risk and resilience, social involvement and control, and the interaction between individuals and their world are applied to understanding the lives of participants over time, beginning at age 6.

Initially, mothers, teachers, and school records provided detailed descriptions of the lives of these 6-year-old children and their families. Over time, some combination of mothers, teachers, and the study participants themselves described family, school, work, economic circumstances, stressful events, community characteristics, psychological and physical well being, and risk behaviors including drug and alcohol use and criminal behavior in adolescence (age 16), early adulthood (age 32), and midlife (age 42). We are currently in the field collecting data at age 62 to understand successful aging. Rounding out the extensive body of knowledge about this unique, clearly-defined community sample are official criminal justice and death records. In addition to interview data, official criminal justice record data extends to 2012 (age 52) and mortality information extends to 2021. By 2021, more than 20% of the cohort members had passed away.

First grade teachers assessed each child's classroom behavior; clinicians observed the children in standardized play situations; and mothers (or mother surrogates) were interviewed about their child and family.

Ten years after the initial assessments, 939 (75%) of mothers or mother surrogates were re-interviewed. From this sample, 705 of the cohort, now in their teens, were assessed on a psychological self-report instrument and a questionnaire that included items on family and school life, drug use, delinquency, and sexual activity.

In 1983, based on work from the Woodlawn Project, the Baltimore City Public Schools and the Prevention Research Center of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created a partnership with parents, children, and teachers to develop the Baltimore Prevention Program to get children off to a good start in school.

In young adulthood, age 32, 952 cohort members were located and interviewed.

Mothers of cohort members were located and interviewed (N=680). This time, interviews focused primarily on the women's lives, with additional questions about family and the focal children who were then in their late 40s.

At age 42, 833 cohort members were interviewed, 102 of whom had not participated in the interviews since childhood or adolescence.

In partnership with the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority, official criminal histories were collected spanning ages 17 to 52.

Collection of National Death Index Records.

Age 60-62 interviews underway

Years Age Events Affecting Cohort
1950s - African American migration from the South to Chicago and Woodlawn
1960 0 Birth of cohort
1960s 0+ Civil rights movement
1966 6 First grade
1968 8 Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
1970s 10+ Woodlawn gang activity: Blackstone Rangers, El Rukins
1978 18 High school graduation (on time)
1978 18 Year of highest student drug use (Monitoring the Future)
1980s 20+ High Chicago murder rate
1982 22 High unemployment
1983 23 Election of Mayor Harold Washington
1986 26 HIV infection recognized
1990s 30+ Crack/cocaine use increases
1996 36 Welfare reform
2008 48 Barack Obama elected to be President
2012 52 Barack Obama elected to a second term as President
2013 53 Founding of Black Lives Matter Movement
2019 59 Chicago's First African American Female and First Openly LGBTQ+ Mayor