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Past Programs

The Russell Sage Foundation currently provides support to scholars at other institutions to pursue research projects that advance the Foundation’s objectives in five main research areas: Social Inequality, Behavioral Economics, Future of Work, Immigration, and Cultural Contact. In addition to the activities sponsored under our main programs, the Foundation also supports a range of special initiatives focused on other issues of current importance. For more detailed information on each of these programs, please choose your area of interest below.

There are many social scientific questions that only the census can answer, and many more that it answers with more authority than any other source of data. As the largest social survey of the United States, the census is capable of tracking small groups and finely distinguished slices of the population. It is, for example, our only source of information about smaller racial and ethnic minorities, specific occupations, and particular income categories.

In 1992, Russell Sage Foundation was invited by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help develop an initiative aimed at strengthening educational research to improve literacy levels in the United States. The program focused on applying findings from basic cognitive science to educational practice that would foster the ability of students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to read, write, and reason effectively. As the program developed, it moved away from support of basic cognitive research toward projects aimed at understanding how to disseminate innovations that promote active literacy and sustain educational change. Guiding the process were several research teams that combined educational innovators with specialists in evaluation, experts in teacher training, and social scientists who study the diffusion of innovation. The program eventually supported four major projects, all of which were concluded by 2001. For a discussion of the impetus behind the Literacy initiative, please visit the Mellon Foundation website at To download an assessment of the educational innovations developed by the project, follow the link below.
Click here to get the file.

The Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality, RSF's largest single effort in the 1990s, was aimed at finding out why high rates of joblessness have persisted among minorities living in America's central cities. Despite a robust U. S. economy, millions of low-skill, inner-city workers remain unemployed or stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs. One explanation is that the economic restructuring of recent decades has increased the educational and skill requirements for most jobs and that most inner-city workers do not have the training and experience to qualify for these jobs. Many jobs, moreover, have moved from cities to the suburbs, stranding inner-city workers. The Multi-City Study found that these two factors, which researchers refer to as skill and spatial mismatches, tell only part of the story: persistent racial barriers, especially employer bias against hiring racial minorities, constitute an even more significant challenge to the job prospects of inner-city workers.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 altered the political, social, and economic landscape of the United States and the world. On that day, thousands of lives were lost, the structure of the U.S. economy was shaken, and the bonds of community in a multi-cultural world were put to the test. To contribute in its own limited way to the nation's effort to respond to the challenges posed by the September 11 attacks, the Russell Sage Foundation devised several new initiatives designed to enlist the data and insights of social science in helping the country understand the implications of September 11 for our city and our national civic life.

In 1994 the Foundation approved the formation of a working group of political scientists interested in probing what they perceived as growing citizen disenchantment with the nation's political system. Specifically they have been interested in studying how the nation's two major political parties have each attempted to create a new political coalition organized around different ideological responses to the belief that government was not meeting the needs of its citizens. The specific focus of their study has been the social policy agenda of the Clinton administration and the partisan struggles that have ensued as a Democratic President--the first in twelve years--and a Republican majority in Congress--the first in over forty years--have attempted to enact major policy reforms.

Most of the Foundation’s programs are aimed at deepening our understanding of social problems and social trends that immediately impact the quality of national life. On occasion, however, RSF invests in social research for sheerly scientific reasons – when we believe that the long-term development of social science will yield eventual benefits in improved understanding of the causal forces underlie the flux of social events. Behavioral economics has been one such undertaking; our research initiative on the social role of trust is another.