In its early years, RSF undertook major projects in low-income housing, urban planning, social work, and labor reform, including the influential Pittsburgh Survey, the first major study of the employment and living conditions among the working class in a large U.S. city. Over the course of the twentieth century, the foundation became a research organization dedicated to strengthening the social sciences and analyzing the nation’s changing social problems. Throughout the decades, RSF has supported research in a number of emerging fields of study, including medical ethics, higher education, and philanthropy.
In the 1980s RSF established its ongoing Visiting Scholars program and served as an early force in the development of behavioral economics. In 1986, RSF launched the Behavioral Economics program with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. In addition, the foundation currently supports three other principal research programs—the Future of Work; Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration; and Social Inequality—as well as a number of special initiatives and collaborations with other foundations. RSF also publishes, under its own imprint, the books and a journal that derive from the work of its grantees and visiting scholars.