Pipeline Grants Competition

The Russell Sage Foundation, in partnership with the Economic Mobility and Opportunity program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to advance innovative research on economic mobility and access to opportunity in the United States. We are interested in research focused on structural barriers to economic mobility and how individuals, communities, and governments have come to understand, navigate, and challenge the existence of systemic inequalities. This initiative will support early- and mid-career tenure-track scholars and promote diversity by prioritizing applications from scholars who are underrepresented in the social sciences. This includes racial, ethnic, gender, disciplinary, institutional, and geographic diversity.

In 2016, the Gates Foundation tasked 24 of the country’s leading thinkers and practitioners on issues related to poverty, economic mobility, and access to opportunity to think about what it would take to dramatically increase mobility from poverty in this country. This group, known collectively as the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, participated in learning sessions and design labs across the country over the span of two years. They learned from and collaborated with community residents, service providers, business owners, faith leaders, advocates, policymakers, researchers, and the like. In addition to their strategic recommendations, the Partnership developed a definition of mobility that reflected these experiences and perspectives: that all people achieve a reasonable standard of living with the dignity that comes from having power over their lives and being engaged in and valued by their community. We encourage applicants to think about mobility via this holistic definition, as a concept rooted in both economic success as well as autonomy and being valued. And to familiarize themselves with the Partnership’s strategic recommendations. For more information, please visit: https://www.mobilitypartnership.org/restoring-american-dream.

RSF supports social science research focused on improving social and living conditions in the United States.  It now prioritizes research to improve understanding of the severe consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its economic disruptions, and the mass protests to combat systemic racism and racial inequality in policing and other institutions. These events have reaffirmed the importance of research on economic, political, racial, ethnic, generational, and social inequalities.  Our priorities do not include analyses of health outcomes or health behavior.

RSF encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. We seek novel uses of new or under-utilized data, including administrative data or new data linkages across systems (e.g. in and across education, criminal justice, safety net, and labor markets). Proposals might include exploratory fieldwork, a pilot study, field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, or ethnographies. Below are examples of topics and questions relevant to this competition. This list is not all-encompassing. We encourage research at the intersection of demographic characteristics, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, immigration statuses, socio-economic status, etc.

We recommend reviewing funding opportunities in RSF’s core program areas that are focused on improving and transforming social and living conditions in the U.S. Many research questions listed under these program areas are relevant for this competition. Applicants can learn more about application requirements and the competition by participating in a webinar on October 7th at 2:00pm EST. Sign up for the webinar here.

The research questions that follow illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of economic mobility research. On their own, they are not indicative of the programmatic priorities and advocacy objectives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

COVID-19 and its Effects

  • How will disparate health and economic outcomes across the states contribute to changes in political engagement, partisan identification, polarization, access to voting, or attitudes toward safety net programs and redistribution?
  • What are the consequences, in terms of employment, wages, and other labor market outcomes, of the systems that allowed some to work remotely, and how do they vary by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and social class?
  • To what extent did the pandemic contribute to increased xenophobia and racism?
  • To what extent has the pandemic-induced distance learning exacerbated racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps in schools, especially the digital divide? How have federal and state policy responses affected these inequities?
  • How has the pandemic affected disparities in evictions and housing conditions?

Income & Wealth

  • What is the relationship between wealth accumulation and the intergenerational transfer of wealth on intra- and inter-generational mobility?
  • Due to racial capitalism, wealth is unequally distributed across racial and ethnic groups. What policies might reduce inequality and increase mobility for future generations? 
  • What policies are effective at breaking the link between family background and future economic outcomes, and for which groups?
  • What are the determinants and consequences of racial disparities in income and wealth?
  • What is the relationship between wealth and political participation and civic engagement?
  • What are the consequences of income, wealth, and inequality for child development?

Neighborhood Characteristics, Gentrification and Segregation

  • What neighborhood characteristics affect the educational, social, and economic outcomes of the children that grow up there?
  • How do neighborhood characteristics shape residents' voluntary and civic activities?
  • What are the legacies of redlining and exclusionary housing zoning ordinances for the opportunity and mobility of African Americans and others?
  • What factors are associated with declining rates of homeownership for African Americans?
  • How does residential and economic segregation affect access to educational and labor market opportunities?  
  • How does segregation shape individuals' inter-group interactions and civic engagement?
  • How has gentrification affected the opportunities and outcomes of low-income Americans?
  • Which place-based interventions are effective in promoting economic mobility and opportunities, and for whom?
  • What interventions have been successful in interrupting patterns of gentrification and segregation?

Policy Impacts and Interventions

  • What interventions might reduce wealth inequality across race/ethnicity and social class? For example, how would policies such as reparations, baby bonds, and others alleviate and atone for historical injustice, discrimination, and inequality?
  • What are the inter- and intra-group variations in attitudes towards affirmative action? How do these attitudes shift over time, and under what conditions do they change?

Young Adults of Color and Social Movements

  • How do young people’s experiences with social movements, such as Black Lives Matter or the Dreamers, or with voluntary civic organizations influence opportunities for educational and economic advancement?
  • What factors help to explain the participation and leadership of young people, especially young people of color, in collective action in general and recent political protests in response to systemic racism?

Social Capital

  • What characteristics of social capital and networks promote mobility for low-income Americans and via what mechanisms?
  • How does social capital facilitate political participation and civic engagement across racial and ethnic groups?
  • How do community-based forms of cultural capital and wealth develop and shape people’s lives and outcomes, especially for those in lower-income communities and communities of color?

Criminal Justice & the Legal System

  • How do experiences of policing, courts, incarceration, or immigration detention affect immediate and long-term opportunities in housing, employment, education, income?
  • How has criminal justice reform impacted opportunities for mobility, and for whom?
  • To what extent have Supreme Court decisions regarding issues of equity and fairness, including discrimination by sex, voter participation, electoral redistricting, and the racial composition of schools affected the educational, economic and political outcomes of economically disadvantaged populations?
  • What interventions provide insights about how policing might be restructured, replaced, or transformed?
  • How do changes in public investments and the relative local and state budgets for police and public schools interact to influence both public safety and the opportunities and well-being of children, particularly those from high-poverty minority communities?

Accessing the Safety Net

  • How has differential access to the social safety net, affordable housing, family assistance and legal aid shaped socio-economic outcomes for disadvantaged groups?
  • What barriers limit access and uptake of public benefits and how have they changed over time? How do they vary by race, ethnicity, gender, and region?

Labor Markets

  • How do labor market intermediaries (e.g. job training programs, temporary employment agencies, or labor unions) affect economic mobility and opportunity, and for whom?
  • To what extent do labor market shocks generated by artificial intelligence, robotics, or automation affect the labor market opportunities of non-college educated workers?
  • Have alternative labor organizing strategies helped workers improve working conditions and that promote labor market opportunities and mobility?

Immigrants and Immigration Policies

  • To what extent have intensified apprehension and deportation programs affected the socio-economic outcomes of immigrant children, youth and young adults? 
  • How has immigration enforcement shaped individuals' civic and political engagement?
  • To what extent does immigration enforcement affect the receipt of public benefits? How does this in turn affect opportunities for mobility for immigrants and their children?
  • How might the social capital and networks of the children of immigrants differ from those of their native-born peers, and does this differentially affect their mobility?
  • What are the social, economic, or psychological consequences from the rise of nativism on the mobility of immigrants and ethnoracial minorities?


  • In what ways does teacher diversity, teacher attitudes, biases or behaviors affect opportunities for student success for Black, Latino, and low-income students?
  • To what extent do Minority Serving Institutions, such as HBCU’s and HSIs, and other institutions serving targeted populations promote mobility for their graduates?
  • How does student debt, or concerns about it, influence choice of college majors, degree completion, and career choices, particularly for first-generation college students and under-represented minorities?
  • What explains the increased economic stratification of selective colleges and universities?
  • While more students are attending college, what explains why only about half obtain a degree within six years and why dropout rates are high among Black, Latinx, and first-generation students?
  • How do approaches to pedagogy, school culture and civics enhance the experience and success of students of color?

Funding & Eligibility

Only faculty who have not previously received a research grant or a visiting fellowship from RSF are eligible to apply. RSF expects to fund 24 one-year projects by assistant and associate professors. Proposals are due on November 4, 2020, for funding starting June 1, 2021. Tenure-track assistant professors can apply for grants of up to $30,000. RSF will pair assistant professors with mentors working in the same field and provide an honorarium for the mentors.

Associate professors who have been in the rank for less than seven years can apply for grants of up to $50,000. Full professors, associate professors in that rank for more than seven years, and those who have previously received RSF funding are eligible to be co-PI’s but cannot receive funding. Grants can be used for investigator salary, course buyouts, research assistance, data access, data collection, conference travel, and other research costs on a case by case basis.

Research Conference

The grantees will present their findings at a conference at the Russell Sage Foundation during summer 2022. Investigators, mentors, advisory committee members, and other experts will participate. The conference will focus on providing feedback on the research and foster collaboration. Grantees can publish their research in their preferred outlet. RSF will reimburse1 participants for reasonable travel expenses to attend the conference.

Application Guidelines

Proposals are limited to seven single-spaced pages and should include a very brief literature review (no more than one page), and detailed information on the research question, hypotheses, research methods and data, analytic plan, and project timeline. Also required are an abbreviated CV (5 pages max), detailed budget, budget justification (1-2 pages), and a letter from your institution stating that it will act as the fiscal agent for the project should a grant be made.

For detailed information about how to apply and what can and cannot be included in the budget, or any further questions about the competition, please email Program Officer Stephen Glauser at programs@rsage.org or visit http://www.russellsage.org/research/pipeline-grants-competition.

Applications must be submitted via our portal. Click on “Apply for a Pipeline Grant.” You can find out more about RSF’s grant writing guidelines and an instructional video on applying to RSF through Fluxx here: http://www.russellsage.org/grant-writing-guidelines.

1This reimbursement is separate from the grant and should not be included in the budget.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.