Social, Political and Economic Inequality

Submission Deadlines: See upcoming deadlines

The Russell Sage Foundation’s (RSF) program on Social, Political, and Economic Inequality supports innovative research on the factors that contribute to social, political, and economic inequalities in the U.S., and the extent to which those inequalities affect social, political, psychological, and economic outcomes such as educational and labor market access and opportunities, social and economic mobility within and across generations, and civic participation and representation.

We seek innovative investigator-initiated research that will expand our understanding of social, political, and economic inequalities and the mechanisms by which they influence the lives of individuals, families, and communities. We welcome projects that explore the relevance of economic, racial, ethnic, age, gender, immigration, residence, or other statuses for the distribution of social, political, and economic outcomes within and across different status groups.

RSF prioritizes analyses that make use of newly available data or demonstrate novel uses of existing data. We support original data collection when a project is focused on important program priorities, projects that conduct survey or field experiments and qualitative studies. RSF encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. Proposed projects must have well-developed conceptual frameworks and rigorous research designs. Analytical models must be well-specified and research methods must be appropriate.

RSF priorities do not include analyses of health or mental health outcomes or health behaviors as these are priorities for other funders. For the same reason, RSF seldom supports studies focused on educational processes or curricular issues but does prioritize analyses of inequalities in student achievement or educational attainment.   

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

Economic Wellbeing, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility

  • To what extent has increased economic inequality (e.g., in income, wealth, consumption) affected equality of opportunity and mobility within and across generations? How have these effects varied by race/ethnicity/gender/geography/immigration status?
  • What are the causes and consequences of racial, ethnic, gender and other disparities in income, wealth, and consumption?
  • How has equality of opportunity changed over time and/or across groups, and what historical or contemporary factors are likely to change its future trajectory?
  • What are the consequences of inter- and intragenerational mobility for individuals and society?
  • How do demographic and labor-market shifts contribute, individually and jointly, to the persistence of inequality within and across generations?
  • What are the implications of differentially distributed economic rewards and constrained safety net resources for the socio-economic wellbeing of families and children both in the course of everyday life and when they experience significant economic shocks?
  • To what extent do extreme weather conditions related to climate change, such as rising temperatures, affect inequalities in employment, earnings, income, and wealth?

Inequality and Policymaking

  • What policies are effective at breaking the association between parental educational and economic status and the next generation’s outcomes? How do the effects of these policies vary by race/ethnicity/gender/geography/immigration status?
  • How have economic and social inequalities affected political participation, support for and stability of democracy, the responsiveness of elected officials to public opinion, or the shape of government policies?
  • How have federal, state, or local policies and changes in these policies affected the opportunities and wellbeing of economically or socially disadvantaged people?
  • What barriers limit access to and uptake of public benefits by race, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, and region? How have they changed over time?
  • How have Supreme Court (federal or state) and other legal decisions lessened or exacerbated social, political, or economic inequality?
  • Do disparities in access or exposure to political information or misinformation influence political participation or related outcomes? How do these vary by socio-economic status/race/ethnicity/gender/geography/immigration status?
  • How does access to democratic institutions, democratic practices and political power and influence vary by socio-economic, race, ethnicity, gender, geography, immigration, or other status?

Political Institutions and the Democratic Process

  • What economic, social, and political factors have contributed to partisan polarization among politicians and/or citizens? What are the political and social effects of this polarization? Have these effects varied by race/ethnicity/gender/geography?
  • How have the internal workings of political party organizations, whether in government or in the electoral process, affected the articulation and representation of diverse values and policy preferences, including progressive, conservative, and anti-democratic views?
  • What factors contribute to the development of pro- or anti-democratic attitudes among citizens and political leaders? How are these attitudes translated into concrete action?
  • How well do existing indicators capture the quality and security of American democracy? What novel indicators would enhance our ability to track democratic progress or backsliding?

Neighborhoods and Communities

  • What are the long-run consequences of growing up in economically or racially segregated neighborhoods?
  • What are the causes and consequences of declining geographic mobility from areas experiencing economic distress and how do they differ by race/ethnicity, gender, education, or other statuses?
  • What are the legacies of policies such as redlining and exclusionary housing ordinances for the opportunity and mobility of African Americans and others affected by these policies? How have zoning, environmental regulations, and housing density policies created or limited economic mobility and opportunity?
  • How are investments in public resources, such as transportation or schools, shaped by political considerations and how do they affect social and economic wellbeing?
  • How do the socio-economic effects of climate-related disasters, like wildfires or hurricanes, and their recovery, vary by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and social class?

Criminal Justice & the Legal System

  • How does the experience of incarceration affect immediate and long-term opportunities in the domains of housing, civic participation, employment, education, and income?
  • How have criminal justice policies impacted opportunities for mobility?
  • To what extent does incarceration of family members affect young people’s opportunities regarding housing, education, employment, or income?

Psychological and/or Cultural Changes

  • To what extent has increased social, political, or economic inequality affected values, beliefs, and behaviors, including young people’s career or educational attainment?
  • How do social, political, or economic inequalities affect perceptions of risk or threat, or cultural biases or stereotypes? How might such perceptions or biases affect inequalities in decision-making, such as the behaviors or decisions of landlords, employers, or police?
  • Has increased social, political, or economic inequality affected attitudes and values about the roles and responsibilities of social institutions, businesses, and governments, and how?
  • What are the psychological consequences of income scarcity and other forms of economic distress, on decision-making regarding education housing or employment?

Educational Attainment

  • How has increased economic inequality affected educational choices, opportunities, achievement, or attainment? What policies or interventions can reduce disparities in these educational outcomes?
  • To what extent does school diversity (i.e., teachers, staff, students) or teacher attitudes, behaviors, and bias affect student achievement and educational attainment?
  • How might linking educational administrative data to employment, tax or other records provide new insights about life trajectories and factors relevant to educational attainment and labor market outcomes?

Application Information

Funding can be used for research assistance, data acquisition, data analysis, and investigator time for conducting research and writing up results. Trustee Grants are capped at $200,000, including 15% indirect costs, over a two-year period. Presidential Awards are capped at $50,000 (no indirect costs) over a two-year period. However, when research projects have special needs for gathering data (e.g., qualitative research or survey experiments), gaining access to proprietary or restricted-use data, or when the proposal budget includes salary support for multiple assistant professor PIs, applicants may request up to $75,000 (no indirect costs).

A brief letter of inquiry (LOI; four-page maximum excluding references) must precede a full proposal to determine whether the proposed project is in line with the Foundation's program priorities and available funds. All applications must be submitted through the Foundation's online submission system, Fluxx. Questions should be addressed to James Wilson, Program Director, at


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