Professor Geoffrey Wodtke examines the impact of poverty on child academic development

Geoff WodtkeProfessor Geoffrey Wodtke has recently received a SSHRC Insight Grant to research the impact of spatially concentrated poverty on child academic achievement in Canada and the U.S. While a large volume of research connects neighbourhood poverty and child development, scholars remain puzzled as to the particular ways that neighbourhood affects children.  Many scholars and policymakers point to differences in school quality as the main source of disadvantage, while other evidence suggests that environmental health hazards play an important role. Wodtke’s project will disentangle these two hypotheses and determine whether differences in the school environment and/or exposure to environmental health hazards can explain the harmful effects of neighbourhood poverty on child academic achievement. This knowledge is essential for adjudicating between different theoretical explanations of neighbourhood effects and for developing and evaluating policy interventions designed to mitigate the harmful effects of spatially concentrated poverty.

This project will answer these questions by matching and analyzing longitudinal individual-level survey data, neighbourhood- and school-level data, and data on a variety of different environmental health hazards. The project involves pulling together no fewer than eight unique datasets. With these matched data sources, Wodtke and his students will estimate the total, direct, and indirect effects of interest using novel methods for causal mediation analysis.

Professor Wodtke is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and studies the effects of concentrated neighbourhood poverty on child development and educational outcomes; the factors of intergroup attitudes and how they change over time; and the causes and consequences of increasing income inequality since the early 1980s. Among his research duties, his work has been published in leading sociological journals, such as the American Sociological Review, Demography, and Social Problems. 

Working Paper 2016-01

Does School Poverty Mediate the Effects of Neighborhood Context on Academic Achievement during Childhood?

Geoff T. Wodtke, University of Toronto

Matthew Parbst, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2016-01

July 2016

Keywords: neighbourhoods, schools, academic achievement, poverty, mediation, childhood

Full Article


Theory suggests that the school environment is an important pathway through which the effects of neighborhood poverty on educational outcomes are transmitted, especially earlier in the life course when young children are thought to be most sensitive to neighborhood institutional resources. Using data from the PSID, counterfactual methods, and a value-added estimation strategy, we investigate whether primary school poverty mediates the effects of neighborhood context on academic achievement during childhood. Contrary to expectations, results indicate that school poverty is not a significant mediator of neighborhood effects during this developmental period. Although moving from a high-poverty neighborhood to a low-poverty neighborhood during childhood is estimated to substantially reduce subsequent exposure to school poverty and improve academic achievement, school poverty does not play an important mediating role because even the large differences in school composition linked to differences in neighborhood context have no appreciable effect on achievement. A battery of formal sensitivity analyses suggests that these results are highly robust to the presence of unobserved confounding, to the use of alternative model specifications, and to the use of alternative measures of school context.

University of Toronto Sociology Working Paper 2016-01

Professor Geoff Wodtke profiled by FAS as a Rising Star

The Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto recently profiled Geoff Wodtke as part of the Rising Star series. The article discusses Wodtke’s personal and professional interests in studying neighbourhood inequality.

Be sure to read the whole article.


Are Smart People Actually Less Racist?

WodtkeProfessor Geoffrey Wodtke studies the contextual and individual-level determinants of inter-group relations. His research studying the connections between racism and intelligence was published this month in Social Problems and has been featured in the media, including in The National Post, Yahoo News and the Washington Post. The original article is Geoffrey T. Wodtke Soc Probl (2016) 63 (1): 21-45 DOI: First published online: 8 January 2016 (25 pages). The Washington Post piece is excerpted here:

Are Smarter People Actually Less Racist?

By Max Ehrenfreind

Bernie Sanders isn’t the first presidential candidate to oppose reparations for slavery. All the same, the Vermont senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination has been criticized for his position over the past few days. Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic noted that Sanders promises his liberal supporters their dreams on all kinds of other issues, even if those dreams are controversial and politically infeasible. The issue of race should be no different, Coates argued.

It is, though. Recent research shows that Americans think about racial questions differently than other political issues.

In general, people with better scores on tests of intelligence are more likely to describe themselves as liberal, researchers have found. For example, they’re more likely to support intrusive governmental policies intended to protect the environment, according to the new study, which was published this month. They’re also more likely to say that African Americans are discriminated against and far less likely to call them stupid or lazy.

When you get down to the brass tacks of dealing with racial prejudice, though, more intelligent people seem to tunnel back into the woodwork. The new study revealed that smarter respondents are no more likely to support specific policies designed to improve racial equality — even though they are more liberal on other issues and are more likely to see discrimination as a problem.

That was the riddle Geoffrey Wodtke, the author of the study and a sociologist at the University of Toronto, was hoping to solve. To be sure, many white participants probably were conservatives who opposed the policies for reasons having nothing to do with race — skepticism about the government’s ability to engineer social change or commitment to the ideal of the free market. Those reasons, though, should have been less compelling for the more intelligent respondents.

“If this is truly an issue of higher-ability whites being more opposed to fairly intrusive government interventions,” Wodtke said, “they should be opposed to those across the board, at least if the principle is consistently applied.”

His conclusion is that while many intelligent Americans might think of themselves as progressive, they might not be entirely prepared to stand by their stated views on race…Read the full article