Urban Poverty and Family Life Study

The Urban Poverty and Family Life Study (UPFLS) was a research project designed to describe and understand the life experiences of Black, White, Mexican, Puerto Rican and non-Hispanic white families living in high-poverty neighborhoods in Chicago. The study comprised four parts: a large survey of inner city residents; the Social Opportunity Survey, which focused on a smaller sample of respondents drawn from the main survey; ethnographic field research; and a survey of employers in the Greater Chicago area.

The main survey was fielded in 1987 and 1988 and interviews were conducted with 2,327 Black, White, Mexican- and Puerto Rican-origin parents from poor neighborhoods in Chicago. It also included a supplemental sample of 163 Black adults aged 18-44 who lived in the same areas but had no biological children. Major areas of investigation included household composition, family background, education, time spent in detention or jail, fertility, romantic relationship history, employment history, military service, participation in informal economy, child care, child support, child-rearing, neighborhood and housing characteristics, social networks, health status, receipt of public assistance, earnings and income, and major life events. The survey was conducted in both English and Spanish by the National Opinion Research Center, (NORC) and was administered in the homes of the respondents. Data from the UPFLS is available for download from the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). To access data from the UPFLS, click here.

The Social Opportunity Survey comprised 167 respondents from the main survey who resided in the highest poverty census tracts. By design, the questions were open-ended and organized around the following topics: work experiences, opportunity and mobility, education and expectations for children, household composition, social classes, finances, and interviewer observations. The ethnographic field research included intensive case studies and neighborhood participant observation in nine Chicago neighborhoods. The Employer Survey sample included 187 employers in Chicago and suburban Cook County. The sample was stratified by industry size, type, and location. Face-to-face employer interviews were conducted between July 1988 and March 1989, and focused on attitudes and hiring practices regarding job applicants of different ethnic groups.

Notable Publications

When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor

By William Julius Wilson (1996)


By Haya Stier and Marta Tienda (2011)

The color of opportunity