Skip Navigation

The Woodlawn Project: A Life Course Study

History and Design of the Project


The Woodlawn Project was initiated in partnership with the Chicago Board of Health, the University of Chicago, and the Chicago public and parochial schools 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. Their experiences were followed into adolescence (age 16), early adulthood (age 32), and midlife (age 42). Over time, 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. Rounding out the extensive body of knowledge about this unique, clearly-defined community sample are official criminal justice and death records. By the 2002 interviews, 86 cohort members were known to have died.

A considerable strength of this study is that it provides the ability to examine behaviors and outcomes as they relate to factors occurring earlier in development. Also, because essentially all Woodlawn first grade children and their families participated in the study (only 13 families declined), there is little selection bias in this community cohort. Further, the study provides extensive research data on an under-represented population African American men and women.

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.

Historic Events for the Woodlawn Cohort

YearsAgeEvents Affecting Cohort
1950s--African American Migration from the South to Chicago & Woodlawn
19600-Birth of cohort
1960s0+-Civil rights movement
19666-First grade
19688-Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
1970s10+-Woodlawn gang activity- Blackstone Rangers, El Rukins
197818-HS graduation (on time)
197818-Year of highest student drug use (Monitoring the Future)
1980s20+-High Chicago murder rate
198222-High unemployment
198324-Election of Mayor Harold Washington
198626-HIV infection recognized
1990s30+-Crack/cocaine use increases
199636-Welfare Reform
200848-Barack Obama elected to be President

go to top