Samuel A. Stouffer

Samuel A. Stouffer (1900-1960) was an American sociologist and statistician. He was among the leaders in applying rigorous methodology to sociological investigations.

Samuel Stouffer was born in Sac City, Iowa, on June 6, 1900. After receiving a bachelor's degree at Morningside College in lowa (1921), he took graduate work at Harvard University and then at the University of Chicago, where he obtained a doctorate in sociology (1930). He taught at the universities of Chicago and Wisconsin and worked with several governmental agencies during the 1930s. During World War II he was director of the professional staff of the Information and Education Department of the War Department. In that position, he directed an important series of studies on attitudes of servicemen. In 1946 he went to Harvard, where he was director of the Laboratory of Social Relations and professor of sociology until his death on Aug. 24, 1960.

Stouffer's work was marked by a dominant interest in the use of varied research techniques, rather than a sustained focus on one or two topical areas in sociology. His doctoral dissertation dealt with the relative merits of the case-study method and the statistical approach. In the 1930s he critically reviewed data on marriage in his Research Memorandum on the Family in the Depression (1937), and he began to investigate the area of opinion research and mass communications, incorporating his findings in a chapter of Paul F. Lazarsfeld's Radio and the Printed Page (1940).

A sophisticated use of statistical methods by Stouffer was first widely recognized in his analysis of factors in migration (1940). He theorized that the number of migrants between two communities not only was influenced by the opportunities at the receiving community, but was modified or reduced by the presence of opportunities between home community and potential destination. By ingenious use of local rental data, he was able to obtain enough confirmation to stimulate several comparable studies of this basic problem that accurately described and partially explained migrant patterns in the United States.

Stouffer's stature as a research sociologist rests on his experience with survey research techniques, which came to fruition in studies on attitudes and difficulties of American military men during World War II. These were published in four volumes known as The American Soldier (1949-1950), with Stouffer as leading researcher, editor, or contributor. Stouffer and his associates not only developed useful research techniques (such as scalogram analysis), but demonstrated the importance of relativity in people's judgments of both their rewarding and frustrating social experiences.

In the last decade of his career, Stouffer turned to the study of attitudes in situations of conflicting values and roles. He became interested in the actual barriers to educational advancement and mobility among youngsters and, more generally, in the study of the compromises made by people faced by inconsistent moral directives. His major work in this area was the national survey on differences in tolerance of nonconformity, published as Communism, Conformity, and Civil Liberties (1955). Stouffer was able to show that tolerance was connected with education, urban residence, and personal optimism.


Further Reading on Samuel A. Stouffer

Several of Stouffer's articles and addresses are collected in his Social Research to Test Ideas: Selected Writings (1962), which includes a summary of his career by Paul F. Lazarsfeld.