Bruce Western


BRUCE WESTERN is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Western's recent work has focused on the link between social inequality and the growth of prison and jail population in the United States. He finds that the penal system has become a common presence in the lives of poor Americans, with lasting effects on their life chances. As a quantitative social scientist, Western has also contributed to the use of Bayesian statistics in sociology. Western's first book Between Class and Market: Postwar Unionization in the Capitalist Democracies (Princeton University Press, 1997) examined the growth and decline of trade unions in capitalist democracies. In this volume, Western argues that unions declined in countries without centralized labor markets, union control over the administration of unemployment policies, and strong working class parties. In his second book Punishment and Inequality in America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006), Western asks what role incarceration plays in the increasing economic and racial inequality in America. He finds that rising rates of imprisonment among young black men without college education have caused a rift in African American society, and that those with less education are increasingly separated from those with higher education. The book also studies the social and economic effects of mass incarceration: serving time in prison reduces earnings, skews statistics on wages and employment, and destabilizes families.

Western received his B.A. in government from the University of Queensland, Australia, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before moving to Harvard, he taught at Princeton University from 1993 to 2007. Western was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2005, and a Jean Monnet Fellow with the European University Institute between 1995 and 1996, and is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the James F. Short Jr. distinguished article award, Crime, Law and Deviance Section of the American Sociological Association in 2006 for his article "Black-White Wage Inequality, Employment Rates, and Incarceration." His book Punishment and Inequality in America won the 2007 Albert J. Reiss Award from the Crime Law and Deviance Section of the American Sociological Association and the 2008 Michael J. Hindelang Award for the most outstanding contribution to research on criminology from the American Society of Criminology. He is currently co-chair of a task force on the challenge of mass incarceration for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has served on the council of the American Sociological Association.