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Intergenerational Mobility in the United States:
Obtaining New Insights from Population-Based Statistics

The Russell Sage Foundation, the principal American foundation devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences, seeks applications for research projects that deepen our understanding of intergenerational mobility in the U.S. by using recently released statistics on mobility from the Equality of Opportunity Project.

Using Internal Revenue Service (IRS) administrative tax records on earnings for more than 40 million children and their parents, Chetty, Hendren, Kline, and Saez (2014) have made available new public use statistics on intergenerational mobility in the U.S. Examples of the available statistics include:

  1. Expected child earnings percentile as a function of parents' earnings percentile (pooled 1980-82 birth cohorts)
         a. By county, commuting zone, and metro area
         b. By gender
         c. Using alternative income definitions, such as family versus individual income,
             cost-of-living adjusted income, etc.
  2. Quintile transition matrices by commuting zone (pooled 1980-82 cohort)
  3. College attendance rate as a function of parents' earnings percentile (pooled 1980-82 birth cohorts)
         a. By county, commuting zone, and metro area
         b. By gender
         c. Using alternative income definitions for the parents,
             such as family versus individual income (e.g. father's income)
  4. A National 100x100 transition matrix for the distribution of parent and child income (pooled 1980-82 birth cohorts)
  5. Trends in mobility measures over time
         a. Rank-rank income relationship for 1971-1986 birth cohorts using Statistics of Income micro-sample
         b. College attendance gradient for 1984-1993 birth cohorts
         c. Available separately by commuting zone

Applicants from all of the social sciences are encouraged to submit proposals utilizing this new data resource (possibly in combination with other data sources). Examples of the types of research topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

Poverty Traps
How persistent are the very top and bottom of the income distribution? Is there evidence of a "poverty trap" at certain points in the income distribution? How does this vary across areas? What factors are correlated with these outcomes?

Time Trends and Causal Determinants of Changes in Mobility
Which areas have seen the largest increases/decreases in mobility? Why? Particular consideration will be given to studies that develop quasi-experimental research designs (e.g., analyzing local policy changes). The effects of such policies could be evaluated using the local area statistics on mobility by cohort constructed in Chetty, Hendren, Kline, Saez, and Turner (2014).

Downward Mobility
Although previous research has focused on upward mobility, little attention has been paid to the extent of downward mobility. How downwardly mobile is the U.S.? What are the properties of places that are more downwardly mobile? Do places with more downward mobility also have more upward mobility? If not, how do they differ?

County-Level Analyses
Although previous research explored mobility patterns at the commuting zone level (generally aggregations of ~5 counties), little is known about mobility at the county level. How much variation exists within commuting zones across counties? For example, research proposals could focus on identifying factors that operate across counties within commuting zones.

Income Security
How do other moments of the income distribution vary across the parental income distribution? Do children from poor backgrounds have greater income variance?

Border Effects
Many economic policies vary discontinuously across county or state boundaries. Studies that use a border discontinuity design, for example, might illuminate the role of government policies in intergenerational mobility?

Other Correlates of Mobility
What historical, sociological, or economic factors are associated with geographic patterns of upward or downward mobility? Are there historical conditions that correlate with more mobility? Are there socio-cultural measures that correlate with mobility and help distinguish between various theories of the role of social capital in mobility? Successful applications will motivate interest in new understandings of mobility, with its ability to distinguish among competing theories. Investigators should discuss potential endogeneity problems with the proposed correlation analysis.

Proposals are encouraged to incorporate additional quantitative or qualitative data sources in pursuing their hypotheses.

Funding Accepted proposals will receive up to $20,000 in funding for a faculty project (junior or senior) and up to $7,000 for a graduate student project. Applications may be submitted by teams of researchers. The maximum funding for a faculty project will be $20,000. If a graduate student project has multiple students, we will consider funding up to $14,000.

In accordance with the Foundation's policy, funds will not be provided for travel to other conferences or for doctoral student tuition. No overheard or indirect costs will be provided on these small grants.

Research Conference Research from accepted proposals will be presented at a one-day academic conference at the Russell Sage Foundation in April or May, 2015. The aim of the conference will be to focus on improving the quality of the research and also foster collaboration amongst young researchers interested in intergenerational mobility. Grantees will be free to publish their research in their preferred outlet. The Foundation will reimburse participants for reasonable travel expenses.

Application Guidelines Applicants must submit a concise (4 page max.) single-spaced proposal describing the proposed work, as well as a detailed budget, up-to-date CVs, and a letter from their institution stating that it will act as the fiscal agent for the project should an award be made. Graduate students must also submit a letter of recommendation from their faculty advisor.

Applicants are encouraged to explore in detail the available data at and to be specific in the proposed analysis, including which tables from the project they plan to use and any additional sources of data that will be required.

For detailed information about what can and cannot be included in the budgets, please read the RSF Budget Guidelines at: (scroll half way down).

Submission Deadlines
Complete applications must be emailed to Applications will be accepted through Friday, March 28 at 12pm (noon) Eastern Time. Decisions will be announced by early May. The Foundation expects to fund 5-7 proposals.

1Chetty et al. (2014) define "upward mobility" as the average outcomes to below median parents; a natural definition of "downward mobility" would be the average outcomes to above median parents, but the applications should be clear about their proposed measure of downward mobility.

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