Social, Political and Economic Inequality

Submission Deadlines: See upcoming deadlines

The Russell Sage Foundation's program on Social, Political, and Economic Inequality supports innovative research on the myriad factors that contribute to inequality in the U.S., and the extent to which social, political and economic inequalities affect social, psychological, political, and economic outcomes, including equality of access and opportunity, social mobility, civic mobilization and representation, and the intergenerational transmission of advantage and disadvantage. We seek investigator-initiated research that will contribute to our understanding of social, political, and economic inequalities and the mechanisms by which they influence the lives of individuals and families in the U.S. RSF encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Examples of the kinds of questions that are of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

Economic Well-being, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility

  • To what extent has increased inequality in income and wealth affected equality of opportunity and intergenerational mobility? How do inequalities in income, wealth, and consumption interact to shape the distribution of well-being?
  • What factors contribute to or impede social mobility and to what extent have those factors changed over time?
  • When rural areas experience economic distress, to what extent do residents have access to social safety net services and programs compared to access in other distressed areas? To what extent are other forms of community support available, such as nonprofit organizations, churches, community groups, or labor organizations?
  • To what extent have government actions and policies ameliorated or exacerbated social, political, and economic inequalities and their consequences?
  • Some socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals who show upward mobility on traditional indicators of success such as academic achievement, also show signs of increased health risks.  How often is upward social and economic mobility associated with negative outcomes in other domains and what factors are associated with them?

Political Institutions and the Policy Process

  • To what extent has rising economic and social inequality affected political voice, partisan polarization, political responsiveness, legislative performance or government actions?  How significant is it that these inequalities often have geographic, generational and racial/ethnic dimensions to them as well?
  • Has increased inequality allowed the affluent greater access to and influence on the policy process and related outcomes at the national and subnational levels?
  • To what extent is increased political polarization associated with increased economic, social and geographic inequalities, and does such polarization affect the ability of the political system to address pressing social and economic issues?
  • There are meaningful political differences between urban and rural areas as indicated by voting patterns and political outcomes, but there has also been substantial variation within many rural areas. What factors are associated with the variability in political participation and voting within rural areas, and what are the implications?

Psychological and/or Cultural Changes

  • To what extent has increased inequality affected values, beliefs, and behaviors, including young people's career or educational aspirations?
  • How have attitudes and values about the roles and responsibilities of social institutions, private firms and businesses, and government changed?
  • What are the psychological consequences of income scarcity and other forms of economic distress, and what does it mean for people's lives and their everyday ability to function and make decisions?


  • Have changes in social, political, and economic inequalities affected educational opportunities, achievement, or attainment?
  • To what extent can government policies or educational interventions reduce socio-economic and racial/ethnic disparities in student outcomes?
  • How significant is it that differences in educational outcomes are emerging as a key political divide?
  • Recent research indicates that the socioeconomic environment influences a child’s neurological development and processes that are associated with subsequent social and economic outcomes. What public policies or interventions can enhance the positive effects or reduce the negative effects of environmental influences on neurodevelopment?

Labor Markets and Occupations

  • To what extent are changes in the labor market and occupational structure related to changes in social, political, and economic inequalities?  How are these playing out by gender and generational cohort?
  • What are the implications of labor market changes for equality of opportunity, social mobility, and overall well-being?

Child Development and Child Outcomes

  • To what extent has a family's economic status become more strongly related to children's cognitive or behavioral development?
  • Are intergenerational resources (e.g. the resources of parents and grandparents) more important now for child development and outcomes than in the past?
  • Despite exposure to adverse socioeconomic environments, some children achieve academic and labor market success. What are the social and biological factors that impede or promote resilience to adversity?
  • To what extent do social, psychological and biological factors work together, or independently, to mediate the negative effects of adverse socioeconomic and physical environments on children’s development and subsequent outcomes?
  • Can linked administrative records from educational, health, social service, criminal justice and other sources further our understanding of the factors affecting child development and well-being?

Neighborhoods and Communities

  • How has increased economic inequality contributed to changes in economic or racial segregation in neighborhoods and communities?  Can the negative effects of neighborhood and community inequality be mitigated? 
  • Do geographic or spatial inequalities affect the opportunities and life chances of residents?
  • To what extent have declines in geographic mobility from areas experiencing economic distress been greater in rural than other areas? What factors are associated with residents’ decision to stay and what are the consequences for those who move versus those who stay? Is there evidence that place-based policies have the potential to improve life outcomes for residents of distressed areas?

Families, Family Structure, and Family Formation

  • Have recent trends in social, political, and economic inequalities affected trends in family formation and family structure?
  • To what extent are changes in family formation and family structure contributing to changes in social, political and economic inequalities, and to what extent are they a consequence of those changes?

Other Forms of Inequality

  • To what extent do inequalities in racial, ethnic, age, gender, immigration, disability or other statuses intersect with social, political and economic inequality? Have growing social, political and economic inequalities disparately affected the distribution of well-being within these population groups?

Links to Other Foundation Initiatives

The foundation has a strong interest in inequality-related projects linked to its special initiative in Computational Social Science, specifically how digital, large volume and complex data and new computational methods can further our understanding of the causes and consequences of inequality and mobility.

  • To what extent can analyses that use large administrative data linked to other data sources overcome the methodological limitations of survey data and further our understanding of the factors that influence social mobility or economic opportunity within and across cohorts and generations?
  • How might the application of new approaches to existing data, or attention to emerging phenomena provide new insights?For instance, can the application of textual analysis and machine learning techniques to current and/or historical political proceedings, such as the Congressional Record or state-level equivalents, provide insights on legislative responses to changes in inequality over time?Or, in another example, what can we learn from new expressions of mass mobilization and protest?
  • To what extent might new data forms, such as online apartment rental advertisements, help us understand the changing nature of neighborhoods and their impacts on residents and communities? Or, through online employment sites, about changes in occupations, job skill requirements, hiring biases, or labor market shifts?

Application Information


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