Bruce Western

Bruce Prichart Western (born July 1, 1964)[2] is an Australian-born American sociologist and a professor of sociology at Columbia University. He has been called "one of the leading academic experts on American incarceration."[3]

Bruce Prichart Western
Born (1964-07-01) July 1, 1964 (age 56)
EducationUniversity of Queensland (B.A., 1987)
CUNY Graduate Center (PhD student, 1987-1988)
University of California, Los Angeles (M.A., 1990; PhD 1993)
Known forResearch into mass incarceration
Children3 daughters
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University
Harvard University
ThesisUnionization trends in postwar capitalism: a comparative study of working class organization (1993)
Doctoral advisorIván Szelényi[1]

Early life and educationEdit

Western was born in Australia, to a white native Australian father who taught at the University of Queensland, and a Thai international student mother. His father was John Western.[4] He became interested in inequality in Australia growing up in Queensland, where he, his brother, and their mother stood out as racial minorities.[5] He received his B.A. in government with honors from the University of Queensland in 1987.[6] That year, Western then became a student in the doctoral program in sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, with the intention of both working with sociologist Iván Szelényi and fulfilling a long-held dream of living in New York City.[7] Szelenyi left the Graduate Center in 1988, and Western followed him to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he subsequently received his masters' and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from in 1990 and 1993, respectively.[6]


After receiving his PhD, Western taught at Princeton University for fourteen years. He taught at Harvard University from 2007 to 2018, where he was a professor of sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the director of the Kennedy School's Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy.[8][9][10] and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy, as well as director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.[11] In 2018 he moved to Columbia University, where he is professor of sociology and co-director of the Justice Lab.[12]


Prisons and mass incarcerationEdit

Originally, Western's research pertained to organized labor, but he became interested in researching prisons and mass incarceration, in his words, "almost by accident" after talking to a colleague about the United States' use of prisons to manage disadvantaged populations.[9] As of 2008, he had written or co-written more than a dozen articles about prisons, as well as a book ("Punishment and Inequality in America") on the same topic.[9] In "Punishment and Inequality in America", originally published in 2006, he concludes that "mass imprisonment has erased many of the "gains to African American citizenship hard won by the civil rights movement.""[13] In a 2010 study, Western and fellow sociologist Becky Pettit outlined the way in which, according to them, poverty increases prison populations and these populations in turn increase poverty.[14][15] Other studies co-authored by Pettit and Western have found that on average, incarceration reduces annual salaries by about 40% for the average male former prisoner, and reduces hourly wages by,on average, 11% and annual employment by nine weeks.[16][17] In 2009, with Devah Pager and Naomi Sugie, he found African American job applicants with a criminal record were less likely to receive a call back after an interview than white applicants with a criminal record.[18] As of 2013, Western was also studying what happens to prisoners after they are released, and has interviewed the subjects of the study in person, which has, according to Elizabeth Gudrais, "put a human face on the statistics and dashed preconceived notions in the process."[19] In 2015, he published a study based on these interviews, showing that 40% of the recently incarcerated prisoners he interviewed in the Boston area had witnessed a killing when they were children.[20][21] Another finding of his research on these released prisoners was that most of them immediately return to poverty upon their release.[22]


He has also researched the relationship between the decline of unions and increasing income inequality, and has found that the former accounted for a third of the increase in income inequality among male workers.[23][24]

Honors and awardsEdit

In 2005, while on the faculty of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, Western received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his project, "The Growth and Consequences of American Inequality."[25] His book "Punishment and Inequality in America" won both the 2008 Michael J. Hindelang Book Award from the American Society of Criminology and the 2007 Albert J. Reiss, Jr. Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association.[26] Western was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 2015.[27]

Personal lifeEdit

As of 2008, Western lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and three daughters.[9]


  1. ^ Western, Bruce Prichart (1993). Unionization trends in postwar capitalism : a comparative study of working class organization (Ph.D.). University of California, Los Angeles. OCLC 29541828. ProQuest 304073404.
  2. ^ "Bruce Western". Library of Congress. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  3. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (October 2015). "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  4. ^ "Professor John Western remembered". University of Queensland. August 10, 2011. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  5. ^ Gabrielsen, Paul (August 15, 2017). "Profile of Bruce Western". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114 (33): 8672–8674. doi:10.1073/pnas.1710704114. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 5565469. PMID 28784808.
  6. ^ a b "Bruce Western CV" (PDF). Harvard University. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  7. ^ Gabrielsen, Paul (August 15, 2017). "Profile of Bruce Western". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114 (33): 8672–8674. doi:10.1073/pnas.1710704114. PMC 5565469. PMID 28784808.
  8. ^ "Professor Bruce Western". United States Studies Centre. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d "Bruce Western". Harvard Magazine. January–February 2008. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  10. ^ Lavoie, Amy (June 14, 2007). "FAS names Bruce Western professor of sociology". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  11. ^ "Bruce Western". Harvard University. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  12. ^ "Bruce Western". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  13. ^ Gottschalk, Marie (April 15, 2008). "Two Separate Societies: One in Prison, One Not". Washington Post. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  14. ^ Western, Bruce; Pettit, Becky (July 2010). "Incarceration & social inequality". Daedalus. 139 (3): 8–19. doi:10.1162/DAED_a_00019. PMID 21032946. S2CID 57571604.
  15. ^ Abramsky, Sasha (October 8, 2010). "Toxic Persons". Slate. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  16. ^ Tierney, John (February 18, 2013). "Prison and the Poverty Trap". New York Times. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  17. ^ Porter, Eduardo (April 30, 2014). "In the U.S., Punishment Comes Before the Crimes". The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  18. ^ Ajunwa, Ifeoma; Onwuachi-Willig, Angela (2018). "Combating Discrimination Against the Formerly Incarcerated in the Labor Market". Northwestern University Law Review. 112 (6): 1390. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
  19. ^ Gudrais, Elizabeth (March–April 2013). "The Prison Problem". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  20. ^ Western, Bruce (November 2015). "Lifetimes of Violence in a Sample of Released Prisoners". RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences. 1 (2): 14–30. doi:10.7758/rsf.2015.1.2.02.
  21. ^ Smith, Clint (February 8, 2016). "The Meaning of Life Without Parole". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  22. ^ Walsh, Colleen (March 1, 2016). "The Costs of Inequality: Goal Is Justice, but Reality Is Unfairness". US News & World Report. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  23. ^ Western, B.; Rosenfeld, J. (August 1, 2011). "Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality". American Sociological Review. 76 (4): 513–537. doi:10.1177/0003122411414817. S2CID 18351034.
  24. ^ Harkinson, Josh (August 1, 2011). "Major Study Links Decline of Unions to Rising of Income Inequality". Mother Jones. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  25. ^ "Bruce Western receives Guggenheim Foundation fellowship award". Princeton University. August 31, 2005. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  26. ^ "Punishment and Inequality in America". Russell Sage Foundation. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  27. ^ "Bruce Western elected to the National Academy of Sciences". Department of Sociology News. Harvard University. April 29, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2015.

External linksEdit