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Stephen Morgan

Sociology and Education

Department of Sociology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
School of Education

Stephen Morgan is widely known for his contributions to quantitative methods in sociology as applied to research on schools, particularly in models for educational attainment and empirical research on social inequality and education in the U.S.

His cross-disciplinary scholarship centers on three interrelated themes: models of achievement and attainment in the sociology of education, models of labor market and wealth inequality in social stratification, and, counterfactual models of causality in quantitative methodology. Current areas of scholarly research include education, demography, public opinion, causal inference, and survey methodology.

Morgan says he “can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in education and inequality.” It’s the nexus of his research agenda: Which Americans choose to go to college, which succeed, and why? What role do social and economic institutions play? And is there anything policymakers can do to make sure we all have the same opportunities to succeed?

Morgan became hooked on these questions in 1991, when, as a junior at Harvard, he first learned of the now-famous Coleman Report. Commissioned by the U.S. Office of Education in accordance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the report reached groundbreaking conclusions that helped set in motion the mass busing of students to achieve racial balance in public schools. The study was conducted by James Coleman, founder of the Johns Hopkins Department of Sociology (originally the Department of Social Relations) and teacher of Aage Sørensen, the Harvard professor who introduced Morgan to the report. “From that day on, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a professor,” says Morgan.

Today, Morgan studies predictors of student achievement, particularly how high schoolers’ beliefs about the future affect whether they attend and graduate from college. He is also author of Counterfactuals and Causal Inference, a look at how social scientists can better study causal relationships. Because it’s often impossible to design randomized studies in the social sciences (“for example, you can’t randomly assign families to kids, for obvious ethical reasons”), these researchers must use specialized techniques to prove not just correlation but also causality.

“If social scientists want to provide useful information to policymakers, we have to know how to speak and write carefully and precisely,” explains Morgan. In a recent project, he has analyzed crime incidents and arrests in Baltimore City from 2010 through 2015. This project gained much attention from the policy community and media outlets.

At Johns Hopkins, he is participating in the university’s 21st Century Cities Initiative, which draws together faculty members and students from across the university to develop and rigorously test solutions for the most pressing urban problems.

Morgan received a Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University in 2000, an M.Phil. in Comparative Social Research from Oxford University in 1995, and a B.A. in Sociology from Harvard University in 1993. He began his career in the Department of Sociology at Cornell University, joining as an Assistant Professor in 2000 and leaving for Johns Hopkins in 2014 after serving as the Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor in the Social Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Inequality.

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