Pipeline Grants Competition

The Russell Sage Foundation (RSF), in partnership with the Economic Mobility and Opportunity program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), seeks to advance innovative research on economic mobility and access to opportunity in the United States. We are particularly interested in research focused on diagnosing and addressing structural barriers to economic mobility in this country. This initiative is designed to support early- and mid-career tenure-track scholars, and to 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 BMGF 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 has a long-standing goal of encouraging methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. We are interested in novel uses of new or under-utilized data, and creative uses of administrative data. Proposals might include exploratory fieldwork, a pilot study, field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, ethnographies, or the analysis of existing data.

Below we provide examples of the kinds of topics and questions that are relevant to this competition. This list is not all-encompassing and is only intended to suggest a sample range of eligible topics and questions. For all topics, research at the intersection of demographic characteristics or intersectional analyses that include race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, immigration status, socio-economic status, and/or others, is encouraged.

We also recommend reviewing funding opportunities in RSF’s existing program areas that are focused on improving social and living conditions in the United States. Many research questions listed under these program areas can provide a starting point for this competition.

Please also note that the research questions that follow are intended to 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.

Income & Wealth

  • What is the relationship between wealth accumulation and the intergenerational transfer of wealth on intra- and intergenerational mobility? How might these wealth transfers impact mobility differently for various demographic groups?
  • What policies are effective at breaking the link between one’s family background (i.e., income levels, wealth accumulation, etc.) and future economic outcomes, and for which groups?
  • What are the determinants and consequences of racial disparities in income and wealth?

Neighborhood Characteristics and Place-Based Interventions

  • What characteristics of neighborhoods have a causal effect on the educational and economic outcomes of the children that grow up there?
  • Which place-based interventions are most effective in promoting economic mobility and opportunities, and for whom?

Gentrification, Segregation, and Housing Policy

  • To what extent has gentrification affected the opportunities and outcomes of low-income Americans?
  • What are the legacies of redlining and exclusionary housing zoning ordinances for the opportunity and mobility of African Americans and others?
  • How does residential and economic segregation affect access to educational and labor market opportunities?


  • What is the relationship between teacher preparation and opportunities for student success for Black, Latino, and low-income students?
  • To what extent does teacher diversity affect opportunities for student success? How do teacher attitudes, implicit bias, and teacher behaviors affect teachers’ experiences and student outcomes?
  • To what extent do HBCU’s and other institutions of higher education serving targeted populations promote mobility for their graduates?
  • 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 attitudes change?

Social Capital

  • What characteristics of social capital and networks promote mobility for low-income Americans and via what mechanisms?
  • How does the structural diversity of social capital and networks impact mobility, especially for low-income Americans?
  • Do the children of immigrants have more socioeconomically diverse networks than their native-born peers, and does this, in turn, help boost their mobility?

Youth and Young Adults of Color

  • To what extent will the changing demographic composition of the population affect opportunity and mobility among young people and young adults?
  • Have the returns to the traditional transitions to adulthood (e.g., completing secondary and postsecondary education, getting married, or acquiring full-time employment) changed for young adults and how? Are various demographic groups differentially impacted by these changes?
  • How do young people’s experiences with social institutions and social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, influence their opportunities for educational and economic advancement?

Criminal Justice & the Legal System

  • How does the experience of incarceration affect both immediate opportunities and long-term opportunities in the domains of housing, employment, education, income, etc.?
  • How has criminal justice reform impacted opportunities for mobility, and for whom?
  • To what extent have intensified apprehension and deportation programs affected the socio-economic outcomes of immigrant children, youth and young adults?
  • To what extent have Supreme Court decisions regarding issues of equity and fairness, including voter participation, electoral redistricting, and the racial composition of schools affected the educational and economic outcomes of economically-disadvantaged populations?

Accessing the Safety Net

  • What components of social safety net services and programs have the greatest impact on mobility outcomes, and for whom?
  • What are the critical barriers to access and uptake of benefits and how have those barriers changed over time?
  • To what extent does immigration enforcement affect the receipt of public assistance such as Medicaid, WIC, SNAP or other government assistance? How does this in turn affect opportunities for mobility for immigrants and their children?

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?
  • Are there alternative labor organizing strategies that allow workers to have a voice in improving working conditions and that promote labor market opportunities and mobility?


Application Information



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.


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