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Stephen A. Matthews

Professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Demography

(Courtesy Geography)

Director, Graduate Program in Demography

507 Oswald Tower
Office Phone: (814) 863-9721

Office Hours

  • Office Hours for the Demography Program: Friday 1.00pm-2.30pm
  • Office Hours for class: Wednesday 1.00pm-2.30pm

Curriculum Vitae

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  1. Ph.D., University of Wales, Cardiff (United Kingdom), 1991


Research Activities and Interests:

I am Professor of Sociology (75%) and Anthropology (25%) and Director of the Dual Title Degree Program in Demography at Penn State.  Until recently I served as the Director of the Geographic Information Analysis Core at the Population Research Institute (PRI) (The GIA Core webpage:

Below I describe my research and teaching interests as well as my administrative roles at Penn State and beyond.

Research: The central tenets of my teaching and research scholarship are population health and health inequality in diverse community contexts. The substantive focus of my research is the study of resources, risks, and opportunities (e.g., food, pollution, social networks) and how access and utilization of these resources, risks, and opportunities relate to health and social inequality (e.g., diet, obesity status, other health outcomes). Race/ethnicity and income inequality are cross-cutting themes in my research. Moreover, I am interested in conceptual and methodological issues associated with how neighborhood contexts (places) are defined and how the attributes of place are measured, and the relevance of these definitions/measures to individual behavior and health outcomes.

I am interested in the connections between people and place. My most recent theoretical paper in this area, entitled ‘Spatial Polygamy And Contextual Exposures (SPACES),” argues that people are functionally attached to multiple ‘places’ (think residential histories, daily movements, and even virtual worlds). This paper appeared in American Behavioral Scientist in August 2013. I have worked on projects using GPS data to track individuals and examine activity spaces to examine exposure to obesogenic environments (Zenk et al, Health and Place, 2011). Similarly, mixed-method approaches, such as geoethnography (Cartographic, 2005) can help researchers better study of the salience of neighborhoods for families and children.  I have published a short commentary on what health researchers might learn from early 20th Century sociology on ‘the salience of neighborhoods’ (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2008). Manuscripts (in development) and based on earlier projects indicate that most functional ties for low-income urban families are outside their residential neighborhood; a finding that may account for weak neighborhood effects so often observed. Together with Linda Burton, Susan Kemp, ManChui Leung and David Takeuchi, I co-edited a 2011 book resulting from the conference titled Communities, Neighborhoods and Health: Expanding the Boundaries of Place. New collaborations with Shannon Zenk (UIC) and data from an NICHD funded study on “maternal intelligence, social information processing, and neglect” led by Dr. Sandy Azar (Psychology, Penn State) will allow for additional exploration of GPS, activity space, and geoethnography concepts.

The measuring spatial segregation project (2004-2008) also explored the importance of local neighborhoods and how results can vary when different conceptualizations and definitions of neighborhood are operationalized. I served as the project coordinator, PI on the NSF project at Penn State, GIS manager, and as co-author. This project generated methodological and substantive articles in top-tier sociology and demography journals as well as several manuscripts on both race/ethnic and income segregation (Demography, 2008; American Sociological Review, 2008). On a related topic, an earlier NSF grant resulted in a co-authored 2009 book chapter on census and population analysis with Phil Rees, Helen Durham and David Martin, all colleagues in the United Kingdom. I am part of a team of demographers at Penn State, led by Barrett Lee, that secured a new R01 grant from NICHD (July 2013) to study “Racial and Ethnic Diversity in American Communities, 1980-2010”.

An R21-NIEHS study (with Steve Cummins) was the first quasi-experimental, intervention study of the impact of a changing food environment in the U.S. and uniquely positioned to contribute new knowledge on the diet and general health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations (low-income, minority, elderly). (see Several manuscripts on the health and wellbeing of Philadelphia residents have appeared (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013; Health and Place, 2013; Health Affairs, 2014). The paper in Health Affairs (Cummins, Flint, and Matthews) evaluated the impact of opening a new supermarket in a "food desert" area and found that the intervention moderately improved residents' perception of food accessibility, though it did no lead to changes in reported fruit and vegetable intake or body mass index. The finding suggest that simply improving a communities food retail infrastructure may not produce desired changes in food purchasing and consumption patterns. This article was featured in several media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, PBS Newshour, and NPR. (see

Related papers on the Philadelphia metro area have emerged from a collaboration with TC Yang on health and the built environment (Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2010; Journal of Urban Health, 2011; Health and Place, 2012), on cancer screening (American Journal of Public Health, 2011; Journal of Aging and Health, 2013), and on stress, sleep, and BMI in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2014). I have written and participated in several GIS and Obesity related publications and others are under review.

A recent grant that is beginning to produce published papers is an R01 from NCI led by Roger Anderson (Penn State Hershey) on cancer patient care in Appalachia. Several manuscripts have appeared: on radiation therapy resources and guideline-concordant radiotherapy for early-stage breast cancer patients (Health Services Research, 2013) and on colorectal cancer care in Appalachia (Journal of Rural Health, 2013). Other manuscripts are under review.

In addition to these projects I work on several other funded projects. I work with Dan Kifer and Tse-Chuan Yang on a recently funded NSF grant on privacy (A Utility for Private Data Sharing in Social Science). Similarly, I have also worked with Jim Wood, Pat Johnson, Tim Murtha, Cory Sparks, and Julia Jennings on the North Orkney Population History Project funded by NSF. An NEH grant (co-PI with the late Wilbur Zelinsky) resulted in a co-authored book on The Place of Religion in Chicago (2011). This is among the first studies to provide a comprehensive description of the religious landscape of a major U.S. city - see

Currently (May 2014), several grants are under review. I have collaborated with Denis Gerstorf (formerly of Health and Human Development, Penn State) and his colleagues on a grant under review at the German Research Foundation looking at disparities in later life wellbeing. I am currently engaged in collaborations with Michael Kramer (Emory), Dustin Duncan (NYU School of Medicine), Dennis Kao (Houston), Liza Robniak (Penn State Hershey), Jacqueline Kerr and Kevin Patrick (both UCSD), Shannon Zenk (U. Illinois at Chicago) and Elizabeth Tarlov (Veterans Affairs), and my long time colleague and collaborator TC Yang (now at SUNY, Albany).

In recent years I have published with Bina Gubhaju, a former graduate student, on women’s empowerment, sociocultural contexts, and reproductive behavior in Nepal (Asia-Pacific Population Journal, 2009). Papers with Daniel Parker (a recent Ph.D. in Anthropology) have focused on spatial analysis in demography (Demographic Research, 2013) and on border malaria in Myanmar/China (Malaria Journal, 2013). In 2011-2012 I worked with honors students at Penn State on handwashing behavior among school children in Uganda. This collaboration resulted in a short paper (Public Health, 2013). Active collaborations exist with several current and former demography graduate students from Penn State (i.e., Claudia Nau (postdoc, Johns Hopkins), Nyesha Black (Sociology), Aaron Yao (postdoc, Virginia Commonwealth University), Ellis Logan (Sociology), and Daniel Parker (Anthropology)).

Teaching: My commitment to instruction is very high as evidenced by my commitment to excellence in training grants and the mentoring of graduate students (past NSF dissertation improvement award recipients, a current NSF Graduate Fellow, supporting applications for QuaSSI fellowships, and mentoring IGERT Big Data Fellows. As of AY 2013-2014 I am chairing one Ph.D. student and two MA students, and serving on six graduate student committees).  I have mentored numerous graduate students assigned to the GIA Core (4-5 per annum). I have served as an external examiner for Mahidol University, Thailand (a demography doctoral student and visiting scholar at Penn State), for the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and recently served as an external committee member on a Ph.D at the University of Texas at Austin.

My second R25 training grant from NICHD is 5-year program (2008-2013) to develop, promote and disseminate materials associated with the application of advanced spatial methods in demographic and health science. This is the only advanced spatial analysis training program in the U.S. tailored to demography researchers (the R25 targets early-career scientists at population centers and demography programs). The training grant on advanced spatial analysis, includes the maintenance of a website on spatial analysis in population sciences In a related activity I authored an encyclopedia entry on spatial sociology and spatial demography (Oxford Bibliographies – Sociology, 2011)

My multiple roles have limited my classroom presence; though I have prior experience teaching at all levels at UCLA and at Penn State. During AY 2013-2014 I am leading the Demography Colloquium (Dem-590), offering a graduate seminar in Spatial Demography (Soc-579/Anth-579), and will be teaching an undergraduate course in Medical Sociology/Health, Disease & Society (Soc-497B). In the future I look forward to offering courses in, and at the intersection of, urban, medical, and environmental sociology.

Service/Administration: My level of service at Penn State is high. In addition to departmental service in both Sociology and Anthropology as of July 2013 I am the Director of the Graduate Program in Demography.

I currently serve on the editorial boards of five journals: Demographic Research (associate editor), American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM), Demography, GeoJournal, and Spatial Demography. In 2012 I coordinated a special theme issue on GIS and Childhood Obesity for AJPM and a special issue of Demographic Research on Spatial Demography.

I have been an active reviewer for NIH for over a decade. I current serve on the Social Sciences and Population Studies Panel A (SSPA).

Summary: Over the next few years my goals are to focus my research, publish as widely as possible in sociology, health and social science journals, and remain grant active seeking new sources of funding for my own research.

Selected Publications:


    Zelinsky W, Matthews SA (2011) The Place of Religion in Chicago (Center for American Places/University of Chicago Press; Chicago, Illinois). ISBN: 978-1-935-19515-3

        Burton LM, Kemp S, Leung M, Matthews SA and Takeuchi D (Editors) (2011) Communities, Neighborhoods, and Health: Expanding the Boundaries of Place (Springer: ISBN: 978-1-441-97481-5).

        Howell FM, Porter JR, Matthews SA (2016) Recapturing Space: New Middle-range Theory in Spatial Demography

          Articles & Book Chapters(*)

          • * Siordia C, Matthews SA (2016) Extending the boundaries of place. In Howell FM, Porter JR and Matthews SA (Eds) Recapturing Space.
          • Yang T-C, Matthews SA, Chen VY-J (2014) Stochastic variability in stress, sleep duration, and sleep quality across the distribution of body mass index: Insights from quantile regression. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 21(2):282-291.
          • Cummins S, Flint E, Matthews SA (2014) New neighborhood grocery store increased awareness of food access but did not alter dietary habits or obesity. Health Affairs 33(2):283-291. (plus reply from authors 33(5):907).
          • Fleming ST, Mackley HB, Camacho F, Seber EE, Gusani NJ, Matthews SA, Liao J, Yang T-C, Hwang W, Yao N (2014) Clinical, sociodemographic, and service provider determinants of guideline concordant colorectal cancer care for Appalachia. Journal of Rural Health 30(1):27-39.
          • Duncan DT, Kawachi I, Kum S, Aldstadt J, Piras G, Matthews SA, Arbia G, Castro MC, White K, Williams DR. (2014) A spatial explicit approach to the stud of socio-demographic inequality in the spatial distribution of trees across Boston neighborhoods. Spatial Demography 2(1):1-29.
          • Li N, Parker DM, Yang Z, Fan Q, Zhou G, Ai G, Duan J, Lee M-C, Yan G, Matthews SA, Cui L, Wang Y. (2013) Risk factors associated with slide positivity among febrile patients in a conflict zone of north-eastern Myanmar along the China-Myanmar border. Malaria Journal 12:361.
          • Rovniak LS, Sallis JF, Kraschnewski JL, Sciamanna CN, Kiser EJ, Ray CA, Chinchilli V, Ding D, Matthews SA, Bopp M, George DR, Hovell MF (2013) Engineering online and in-person social networks to sustain physical activity: Application of a conceptual model BMC Public Health 13:753.
          • Yang T-C, Matthews SA, Anderson RT (2013) Prostate cancer screening and health care system distrust in Philadelphia. Journal of Aging and Health 25(5):737-757.
          • Flint E, Cummins S, Matthews SA (2013) Do perceptions of the neighborhood food environment predict fruit and vegetable intake in low-income neighborhoods? Health and Place 24:11-15.
          • Matthews SA, Yang T-C (2013) Spatial Polygamy and Contextual Exposures (SPACEs): Promoting activity space approaches in research on place and health. American Behavioral Scientist 57(8):1057-1081. DOI 10.1177/0002764213487345
          • Zhang C, Mosa AJ, Hayward AS, Matthews SA (2013) Promoting clean hands among Uganda’s children: A school-based intervention using tippy-taps. Public Health 127(6):586-589. DOI: 10.1016/j.puhe.2012.10.020
          • Yao N, Matthews SA, Hillemeier MM, Anderson RT (2013) Radiation therapy resources and guideline-concordant radiotherapy for early-stage breast cancer patients in an underserved region. Health Services Research 48(4), 1433-1449. DOI: 10.1111/1475-6773.12047 PMC: 3703497
          • Matthews SA, Parker DM. (2013) Progress in spatial demography. Demographic Research Volume 28, Article 10, 271-312. DOI: 10.4054/DemRes.2013.28.10
          • Fuller D, Cummins S, Matthews SA (2013) Does transportation mode modify associations between distance to food store, fruit and vegetable consumption and BMI in low income neighborhoods? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 97(1):167-172. DOI:10.3945/ajcn.112.036392 PMID: 23193006
          • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Odoms-Young A, Wilbur J, Matthews SA, Gamboa C, Wegrzyn L, Hobson S, Stokes C (2012). Feasibility of using global positioning systems (GPS) with diverse urban adults: Before and after data on perceived acceptability, wear-related concerns, and ease of use. Journal of Physical Activity and Health 9 (7): 924-934.
          • Matthews SA (2012) Thinking about place, spatial behavior, and spatial processes in childhood obesity American Journal of Preventive Medicine 42 (5):516-520. DOI:10.1016/j.amepre.2012.02.004. PMID 22516493
          • Yang T-C, Chen VY-J, Shoff C, Matthews SA (2012) Using quantile regression to examine the effects of inequality across the mortality distribution in the US counties. Social Science and Medicine 74, 1900-1910 DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.02.029. PMID 22497847 PMC3348237 NIHMSID: NIHMS365347
          • Chen VY-J, Deng W-S, Yang T-C, Matthews SA (2012) Geographically Weighted Quantile Regression (GWQR): an application to U.S. mortality data. Geographical Analysis 44 (2):134-150. DOI:10.1111/j.1538-4632.2012.00841.x.
          • Gilreath TD, Chaix B, King G, Mathews SA, Flisher AJ (2012) Multi-level influence of schoolnorms on tobacco use in South Africa: An ecometric consideration of group differences. Cancer Causes and Control 23:27-36.
          • Yang T-C, Matthews SA (2012) Understanding the non-stationary associations between distrust of the health care system, health conditions, and self-rated health in the elderly: A geographically weighted regression approach. Health and Place 18:576-585 DOI:10.1016/j.healthplace.2012.01.007 PMID: 22321903 PMC: 3319514.
          • Matthews, SA, Yang T-C (2012) Mapping the results of local statistics: Using geographically weighted regression. Demographic Research Volume 26, Article 6, 151-166. DOI:10.4054/DemRes.2012.26.6.
          • * Matthews SA (2011) Spatial polygamy and the heterogeneity of place: studying people and place via egocentric methods. Pp 35-55 (Chapter 3) in Burton L, Kemp S, Leung M. Matthews SA, Takeuchi DT (Eds) Communities, Neighborhoods, and Health: Expanding the Boundaries of Place. Springer.
          • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Matthews SA, Odums-Young A, Wilbur J, Wegrzyn L, Gibbs K, Braunschweig C, Stokes C (2011) Activity space environment and eating and physical activity behaviors: a pilot study. Health & Place 17:1150-1161. DOI:10.1016/j.healthplace.2011.05.001. PMID: 21696995; PMC3224849.
          • Matthews SA (2011) Spatial analysis. In Oxford Bibliographies Online – Sociology
          • Yang T-C, Matthews SA, Hillemeier M (2011) Effect of health care system distrust on breast and cervical cancer screening in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. American Journal of Public Health 101 (7):1297-1305.  DOI:10.2105/AJPH.2010.300061 PMID: 21566035; PMCID: PMC3110214.
          • Matthews SA, Yang T-C (2010) Exploring the role of built and social neighborhood environments in moderating stress and health. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 39:170-183. DOI: 10.1007/s12160-010-9175-7 PMID: 20300905.
          • Matthews SA, Yang T-C, Hayslett KL, Ruback RB (2010) Built environment and property crime in Seattle, 1998-2000: A Bayesian analysis.  Environment and Planning A 42:1403-1420. DOI:10.1068/a42393.
          • Yang, TC, Matthews SA (2010) The role of social and built environments in predicting self-rated stress: A multilevel analysis in Philadelphia. Health and Place 16:803-810. DOI:10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.04.005            PMID: 20434389; PMC3200568.
          • Gubhaju B, Matthews SA (2009) Women’s empowerment, sociocultural context, and reproductive behavior in Nepal. Asia-Pacific Population Journal 24 (2): 25-50.
          • Matthews SA, Moudon AV, Daniel M (2009) Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for enhancing research relevant to policy on diet, physical activity, and weight.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine 36 (4S): 171-176. DOI:10.1016/j.amepre.2009.01.011 PMID: 19285210.
          • Lee BA, Reardon SF, Firebaugh G, Farrell CR, Matthews SA, O’Sullivan D (2008). Beyond the census tract: patterns and determinants of racial segregation at multiple geographic scales. American Sociological Review 73:766-791.
          • Reardon SF, Matthews SA, O’Sullivan D, Lee BA, Firebaugh G, Farrell CR, Bischoff K (2008) The geographic scale of metropolitan racial segregation. Demography 45 (3):489-514. PMID: 18939658; PMC2831394.
          • Matthews SA (2008) The salience of neighborhoods: lessons from early Sociology? American Journal of Preventive Medicine 34 (3):257-259. DOI:10.1016./j.amepre.2007.12.001  PMID: 18312814.
          • Matthews SA, Detwiler J, Burton LM (2005) Geoethnography: coupling geographic information analysis techniques with ethnography methods in urban research. Cartographica 40 (4):75-90.
          • * Skinner D, Matthews SA, Burton LM (2005) Combining ethnography and GIS technology to examine constructions of developmental opportunities in contexts of poverty and disability. Pp 223-239 (Chapter 7) in Weisner T (Ed) Discovering Successful Pathways in Children's Development: Mixed Methods in the Study of Childhood and Family Life. MacArthur Foundation: University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
          • * Clogg CC, Rudas T, Matthews SA (1998) Analysis of model misfit, structure and local structure in contingency tables using graphical dispalys based on the mixture index of fit. Pp. 425-39 (Chapter 29) in Blasius J and Greenacre M (Eds) Visualization of Categorical Data. Academic Press: San Diego, CA.
          • Matthews SA, Ribar D, Wilhelm M (1997) The effects of economic conditions and access to reproductive health services on state abortion and birth rates. Family Planning Perspectives 29 (2):52-60.
          • Matthews SA (1995) Geographies of women’s health. Geoforum 26 (3):239-245.
          • Matthews SA (1990) Epidemiology using a GIS: a need for caution. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems 14 (3):213-21.

          Termination details

          Research Interests

          Demography, Spatial Inequality, Population Health, Ecologic Exposure, Spatial Analysis