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 interested in research focused on structural barriers to economic mobility and how individuals, communities and state entities understand, navigate and challenge systemic inequalities. This initiative will support early- 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 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 long supported social science research focused on improving social and living conditions in the U.S.  In response to the crises of 2020, it is also prioritizing research that seeks to improve our understanding of these extraordinary times. The severe consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its economic disruptions, and the recent mass protests to combat systemic racism and racial inequality in policing and other institutions have reaffirmed the importance of social science research examining economic, political, racial, ethnic, generational, and social inequalities relevant to public policies and social change.  Our priorities do not include analyses of health outcomes or health behaviors or research on educational processes or curricular issues.

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 over time or new data linkages across systems  (e.g. in and across education, criminal justice, safety net, labor markets, health). Proposals might also include exploratory fieldwork, a pilot study, field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, or ethnographies.

Below we provide some examples of topics and questions that are relevant to this competition. This list is not all-encompassing. For all topics, we encourage research at the intersection of demographic characteristics, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, immigration status (undocumented, DACA, H1-B, legal permanent residents, citizens, asylum seekers, TPS, etc.), socio-economic status, and/or others.

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.

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 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? How has divisive rhetoric from politicians and the media affected stereotypes about Asian Americans? 
  • To what extent has pandemic-induced distance learning exacerbated racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps and educational attainment? To what extent have federal and state policy responses lessened or reinforced these inequities?
  • To what extent have moratoria on evictions during the pandemic been successful? How have disparities in eviction rates and in housing conditions been changed during the pandemic?

Policy Impacts and Interventions

  • How have the various federal policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recession such as enhanced unemployment benefits, stimulus payments, the child tax credit, or the Paycheck Protection Program (among others) affected groups differently?
  • What policy interventions might reduce wealth inequality by race/ethnicity and social class? For example, how would reparations, baby bonds, and other policies alleviate historical injustice, discrimination, and inequality?
  • To what extent have place-based interventions been effective in promoting economic mobility and opportunities, and for whom?
  • To what extent have public policy and political interventions been successful in reducing segregation?
  • 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?

Income & Wealth

  • How have changes in wealth accumulation and the intergenerational transfer of wealth affected intra- and intergenerational mobility?
  • Wealth is unequally distributed across racial/ethnic groups. How might future wealth transfers shape inequality and mobility for future generations? 
  • What policies are effective at breaking the link between family background (i.e., income levels, wealth accumulation, etc.) and future economic outcomes, and how do their effects vary by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and social class?
  • 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 economic resources, wealth, and inequality for child development?
  • Why have rates of homeownership for African Americans declined to levels that prevailed when the 1968 Fair Housing Act was passed?

Neighborhood Characteristics, Gentrification and Segregation

  • How do 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 other groups?
  • 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?

Social Capital

  • What characteristics of social capital and networks promote mobility for low-income Americans and via what mechanisms?
  • What role does social capital play in facilitating different forms of 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?

Young Adults of Color and Social Movements

  • How do young people’s experiences with social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, the Sunrise Movement, or with voluntary civic organizations influence their opportunities for educational and economic advancement, and their continuing civic and political engagement?
  • What factors are associated with 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 in particular?

Criminal Justice & the Legal System

  • How does individuals' experiences of policing, courts, incarceration, or immigration detention affect their immediate and long-term opportunities in housing, employment, education, income?
  • To what extent have recent criminal justice reforms 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 access and uptake 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?
  • To what extent have alternative labor organizing strategies allowed workers to have a voice in improving working conditions and promoting 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 assistance such as Medicaid, WIC, SNAP or other 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, political, economic, or psychological consequences from the rise of nativism on the mobility of immigrants and ethnoracial minorities?


  • To what extent do Minority Serving Institutions, such as HBCU’s and HSIs, and other institutions of higher education serving targeted populations promote economic and social 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-goers and under-represented minorities?
  • What explains the increased economic stratification of US higher education institutions, particularly among highly selective colleges and universities?
  • While more students are going to college than ever before, what explains why only about half of those who begin college obtain a degree within six years and why college dropout rates are particularly high among Black, Latinx, and first-generation students?

Climate Change & Natural Disasters

  • How do rising global temperatures affect existing social and economic inequalities?
  • How do the effects of disasters like wildfires or hurricanes and their recoveries vary by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and social class?
  • How do attitudes and rhetoric around climate change affect political participation and how do the effects vary by age, race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and social class?

Funding & Eligibility
Post-docs and assistant professors (both tenure and non-tenure track) are eligible to apply for grants of up to $30,000. The pipeline grants competition is only available to faculty who have not previously received a research grant or a visiting fellowship from RSF.  RSF expects to fund about 20-25 one-year projects. Proposals are due on November 2, 2022, for funding starting by June 1, 2023. Applicants can apply for either the Pipeline Grants Competition or the November 9th LOI deadline, but not both. RSF will pair grantees with mentors working in the same field and provide an honorarium for the mentors. On occasion, RSF will deem a project or applicant more appropriate for its regular research grants review process and review a Pipeline Grants proposal as a letter of inquiry for its next Presidential Grants competition.

Research Conference
The funded researchers will be expected to present their findings at a conference at the Russell Sage Foundation during Summer or Fall 2024. Investigators, mentors, and other experts will participate. The conference will focus on providing feedback on the research ahead of publication and foster collaboration among researchers. 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. An abbreviated CV (5 pages max) is also required at submission. Not required at submission, but required prior to the disbursement of funds are a 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. The budget will be finalized with the grantee, their university's research office, and RSF after the approval of the grant.

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 Small Grant (for Emerging Scholars)” and select “Pipeline Grants Competition” as an Application Type. 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.


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