Social, Political and Economic Inequality

Submission Deadlines: See upcoming deadlines

The severe consequences of the Covid19-pandemic, including its economic disruptions, and the recent mass protests to combat systemic 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 policy and social change. RSF encourages proposals that analyze any of these issues on topics of interest under our Social, Political and Economic Inequality program. [Click here for Covid-19 priorities.]

The Russell Sage Foundation’s 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, psychological, political, and economic outcomes, including educational access, job opportunities, social mobility, civic participation and representation, and the transmission of advantage and disadvantage within and across generations.

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 and families. 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 these groups. 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 inequities in educational attainment or student performance.

RSF is particularly interested in analyses that make use of newly available data or demonstrate novel uses of existing data. We also support original data collection when a project is focused on important program priorities. Proposals to conduct field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, and ethnographies are also encouraged.

RSF encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. Proposed projects must have well-developed conceptual frameworks and research designs. Analytical models must be well-specified and research questions and hypotheses must be clearly stated.

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 (in income, wealth, consumption) affected equality of opportunity and intergenerational mobility? Have these effects varied by race/ethnicity/gender/geography/immigration status?
  • What are the determinants and consequences of racial/ethnic/gender 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?
  • What are public attitudes toward such policies, such as affirmative action, social safety net programs, or the construction of public housing in low-poverty areas, and how do they shift over time and why?
  • Can linked administrative data further our understanding of social mobility or economic opportunity within and across generations?

Political Institutions and the Policy Process

  • To what extent has rising inequality affected political voice and participation, partisan polarization, political responsiveness, legislative performance or government actions and have these effects varied along economic, educational, geographic, generational or racial/ethnic/gender dimensions?
  • What factors are associated with variability in political participation and voting within and between urban and rural areas, and what are their implications for social, political and economic outcomes?
  • To what extent has voter suppression and gerrymandering reduced political participation and affected social and economic opportunities? Who is most affected?
  • To what extent do direct and indirect interactions with the carceral state affect opportunities for political participation?
  • To what extent have Supreme Court and other legal 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 disadvantaged populations?

Psychological and/or Cultural Changes

  • To what extent has increased inequality affected values, beliefs, and behaviors, including young people’s career or educational aspirations?
  • Has increased inequality affected attitudes and values about the roles and responsibilities of social institutions, business, and government and how?
  • 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?

Educational Attainment

  • Has increased inequality affected educational opportunities, achievement, or attainment? What policies or interventions can ameliorate disparities in student outcomes?
  • Are family resources (parents, grandparents) more important now for educational and economic attainment than in the past?
  • To what extent does school diversity (i.e., teachers, staff, students) affect opportunities for student success? How do teacher attitudes, behaviors and bias affect students’ experiences and student outcomes?
  • How might linking educational administrative data to employment, tax or other records provide new insights about life trajectories and factors relevant to educational persistence and attainment and labor market outcomes?

Work, Labor Markets and Occupations

  • Are changes in the labor market and occupational structure related to changes in social, political, and economic inequalities and mobility and how do they vary by demographic groups?
  • As algorithms increasingly guide decisions about hiring and promotion (as well as decision-making in realms such as education, criminal justice, credit determinations, the allocation of social services), to what extent do they incorporate or correct for social biases which might disparately affect some groups more than others?
  • How do labor market intermediaries (e.g. job training programs, temporary employment agencies, or labor unions) affect economic mobility and opportunity, and for whom?

Children and Families

  • In a time when economic rewards are differentially distributed and safety net resources are constrained, what are the implications for families and children both in the course of everyday life and when they experience significant shocks?
  • To what extent do social, psychological and biological factors mediate the negative effects of adverse environments on children’s educational and economic attainment? What factors impede or promote resilience to adversity?
  • How does incarceration of family members affect young people’s opportunities regarding housing, employment, education, income, marriage, etc.?
  • 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 effected by these changes?

Neighborhoods and Communities

  • What are the causes and consequences of economic or racial segregation in neighborhoods and communities? How does segregation affect life outcomes and are place-based interventions effective in promoting greater opportunity and mobility?
  • 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 redlining and exclusionary housing zoning ordinances for the opportunity and mobility of African Americans and others?
  • To what extent might big data, such as online apartment rental advertisements or home values, help us understand the changing nature of neighborhoods and their effects on residents and communities?
  • How has gentrification affected social, political, and economic opportunities for the disadvantaged?

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, and income?
  • How have criminal justice policies impacted opportunities for mobility, and for whom?

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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