Social, Political and Economic Inequality

Submission Deadlines: See upcoming deadlines

The Russell Sage Foundation’s program on Social, Political, and Economic Inequality supports innovative research on the many factors that contribute to social, political and economic inequalities in the U.S., and the extent to which those inequalities affect social, psychological, political, and economic outcomes, including equality of access and opportunity, social mobility, civic participation and representation, and the transmission of advantage and disadvantage within and across generations.

We seek investigator-initiated research that will contribute to a better understanding of social, political, and economic inequalities and the mechanisms by which they influence the lives of individuals and families. The program welcomes projects that explore the relevance of economic, racial, ethnic, age, gender, immigration, occupational or other statuses for the distribution of wellbeing within these groups. We are most interested in social and economic outcomes as the primary indicators of wellbeing. Examples of 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 affected equality of opportunity and intergenerational mobility? How do inequalities in income, wealth, and consumption interact to shape the distribution of wellbeing? How do these effects vary by race/ethnicity/immigration status?
  • What are the determinants and consequences of racial/ethnic disparities in income,  wealth, and consumption?
  • To what extent have state, local or federal policies ameliorated or exacerbated social, political, and economic inequalities and their consequences?
  • Some socioeconomically-disadvantaged individuals who show upward mobility on traditional indicators of success, such as academic achievement, also show signs of increased health risks. To what extent is upward mobility associated with negative outcomes in other domains and what factors are associated with them?
  • Can analyses that use linked administrative data further our understanding of the factors that influence social mobility or economic opportunity within and across generations?

Political Institutions and the Policy Process

  • To what extent has rising economic and social inequality affected political voice, partisan polarization, political responsiveness, legislative performance or government actions?  Do these inequalities have geographic, generational and racial/ethnic dimensions to them as well?
  • Has increased inequality allowed the affluent greater access to and influence on the policy process and related outcomes at different levels of government?
  • There are meaningful political differences between urban and rural areas in voting patterns and political outcomes, but there has also been substantial variation within many rural areas. What factors are associated with the variability in political participation and voting within rural areas, and what are their implications for social, political and economic outcomes?
  • How might computational approaches provide new insights into political inequalities? For instance, can the application of textual analysis and machine learning techniques to current and/or historical political proceedings, such as the Congressional Record, provide new insights on legislative responses to changes in inequality over time?
  • To what extent has voter suppression and gerrymandering reduced political participation and affected social and economic opportunities?
  • How significant is it that differences in educational outcomes are emerging as a key political divide?
  • To what extent do direct and indirect interactions with the carceral state affect opportunities for political participation?

Psychological and/or Cultural Changes

  • To what extent has increased inequality affected values, beliefs, and behaviors, including young people’s career or educational aspirations?
  • How have attitudes and values about the roles and responsibilities of social institutions, business, and government changed and why?
  • What are the psychological consequences of income scarcity and other forms of economic distress, and what does it mean for people’s lives and their everyday ability to function and make decisions?


  • Have changes in social, political, and economic inequalities affected educational opportunities, achievement, or attainment? Can government policies or educational interventions reduce  disparities in student outcomes?
  • Can linking school K-12 administrative data to employment or tax records or Census data provide new insights about life trajectories and factors relevant to educational persistence, attainment and labor market outcomes?

Work, Labor Markets and Occupations

  • To what extent are changes in the labor market and occupational structure related to changes in social, political, and economic inequalities? Are there disparate effects for different demographic groups?
  • What are the implications of labor market changes for equality of opportunity, social mobility, and overall wellbeing?
  • As algorithms are increasingly incorporated to guide decisions about employment and hiring and promotion in work environments (as well as decision-making in other realms such as education, criminal justice, credit determinations, the allocation of social services), questions are raised about their fairness. Under what conditions do algorithms incorporate existing social biases which might disparately impact some groups more than others? If the latter occurs, how do biases get embedded in the algorithms, and how do governments, organizations and social scientists evaluate algorithms for biases and establish accountability?

Children and Families

  • Have recent trends in social, political, and economic inequalities affected trends in family formation and family structure?
  • To what extent are changes in family formation and family structure contributing to changes in social, political and economic inequalities, and to what extent are they a consequence of those changes?
  • To what extent is a family’s economic status related to children’s development and socioeconomic outcomes? Are intergenerational resources (e.g. the resources of parents and grandparents) more important now for child development and outcomes than in the past?
  • Despite exposure to adverse socioeconomic environments, some children achieve academic and labor market success. What are the social and biological factors that impede or promote resilience to adversity?
  • To what extent do social, psychological and biological factors work together, or independently, to mediate the negative effects of adverse socioeconomic environments on children’s development and subsequent outcomes?
  • Can linked administrative records from educational, health, social service, criminal justice and other sources further our understanding of the factors affecting child development and wellbeing?
  • Recent research indicates that the socioeconomic environment influences a child’s neurological development and processes that are associated with subsequent social and economic outcomes. What public policies or interventions can enhance the positive effects or reduce the negative effects of environmental influences on neurodevelopment?
  • How does the experience of incarceration affect young people’s opportunities regarding housing, employment, education, income, marriage, etc.?

Neighborhoods and Communities

  • How has increased economic inequality contributed to changes in economic or racial segregation in neighborhoods and communities? What are the effects of increased segregation for residents and communities?
  • To what extent have declines in geographic mobility from areas experiencing economic distress been greater in rural than other areas? What factors are associated with residents’ decision to stay and what are the consequences for those who move versus those who stay?
  • Is there evidence that place-based policies have the potential to improve life outcomes for residents of distressed areas?
  • To what extent might new data forms, such as online apartment rental advertisements, help us understand the changing nature of neighborhoods and their impacts on residents and communities?
  • To what extent has gentrification affected social, political, and economic opportunities?
  • When rural areas experience economic distress, to what extent do residents have access to social safety net services and programs compared to access in other distressed areas? To what extent are other forms of community support available, such as nonprofit organizations, churches, community groups, or labor organizations?

Application Information

We are particularly interested in analyses that make use of newly available data or demonstrate novel uses of existing data. We also support original data collection. Proposals to conduct field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, and ethnographies are also encouraged.

The Foundation encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. All proposed projects must have well-developed conceptual frameworks and research designs. Analytical models must be specified and research questions and hypotheses (where applicable) must be clearly stated.

Funding can be used for research assistance, data acquisition, data analysis, and investigator time for conducting research and writing up results. Trustee Grants are generally capped at $175,000, including 15% indirect costs, over a two-year period. Presidential Awards are capped at $35,000 (no indirect costs). PIs may request up to $50,000 (no indirect costs) when the proposed research project has special needs for gathering data (e.g.: qualitative research) or gaining access to restricted-use data.

RSF receives so many applications for its limited funding that it no longer considers submissions that make use of publicly-available data, such as the Current Population Survey, American Community Survey, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, National Longitudinal survey of Youth, etc. However, if the project addresses a pressing issue or uses these data in an innovative way, RSF may consider such proposals as Presidential grants with a maximum budget of $35,000.

A brief letter of inquiry (LOI; 4 pages max. 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. Questions should be addressed to James Wilson, Program Director, at


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