2018 Request for Proposals

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth seeks to deepen our understanding of whether and how inequality affects economic growth and stability. Our academic grants program is building a portfolio of cutting-edge scholarly research investigating the various channels through which economic inequality may (or may not) impact economic growth and stability, both directly and indirectly.

We consider proposals that investigate: the consequences of economic inequality across wages, benefits, incomes, wealth, and job quality as well as group dimensions of inequality including race, ethnicity, and gender; the causes of inequality to the extent that understanding these causal pathways will help us identify and understand key channels through which economic inequality may affect growth and stability; and the ways in which public policies affect the relationship between inequality and growth in the core areas of interest described below.

Equitable Growth supports inquiry utilizing many different kinds of evidence, relying on a variety of methodological approaches and cutting across academic disciplines. We are especially interested in projects using administrative data and other new or innovative data sources, as well as projects that utilize geo-coded data or rigorous comparative case studies that allow for insight into the role of place in shaping economic opportunities and outcomes.

We are currently requesting proposals in these four core areas of interest:


How, if at all, does economic inequality have an impact on macroeconomic growth and stability? We are interested in whether a more equal distribution of income and wealth across households and individuals would lead to faster or more stable economic growth, and in the relationship between the health of individual household balance sheets and the health of the economy as a whole.

Areas of interest include but are not limited to:

The relationship between inequality and consumer demand. How does the composition and distribution of economic resources affect an economy’s total amount of consumption and saving? How, if at all, do inequalities in individual and household earnings, income, consumption, and savings translate into measurable differences in demand and/or growth at a local, state, and national level? What role do public policies play in shaping the impact of these inequalities?

The relationship between inequality, investment, and productivity. How has the shift to a service economy impacted productivity growth, as well as the income distribution? What role do monopoly and monopoly-like rents play in national income, how have these rents changed, and what are the consequences of these shifts on inequality, investment, and living standards? What role do demand-side factors play in explaining the structural decline in the labor force participation rate?

The effects of fiscal and monetary policy. Do inequalities of income, asset ownership, or debt affect the effectiveness of fiscal or monetary policy? How does inequality affect the effectiveness or economic importance of automatic stabilizers? Do the factors contributing to the decline in the natural rate of interest look to be durable or fleeting? Are there important distributional effects of a low interest environment? How do the impacts of macroeconomic policies on labor force participation, wages, and/or consumption differ by the gender, race, and/or ethnicity of workers?

The effects of the tax system. How does the tax system affect economic inequality, including inequality in incomes, earnings, consumption, wealth, and broader measures of well-being? When is there a trade-off between redistribution and productivity? When and how do market failures create a role for corrective taxes and how do such taxes affect inequality, living standards, and growth? How do wealth, wealth transfer, and capital taxes differ in their implications for the level and growth rate of output, the distribution of output, and living standards?

Human Capital and the Labor Market

How, if at all, does economic inequality affect the development of human capital, and to what extent do aggregate trends in human capital explain inequality dynamics? How does economic inequality impact the efficient utilization of human capital in the labor market? We are interested in proposals that investigate the mechanisms through which economic or demographic inequality might work to alter the development of human potential across the generational arc, as well as the policy mechanisms through which inequality’s potential impacts on human capital development and deployment may be mitigated.

Areas of interest include but are not limited to:

Economic opportunity and mobility. How do different levels or kinds of inequality impact the potential for talent to emerge across gender, race and ethnicity as well as across income, earnings, or wealth distributions? How do income, earnings, and wealth inequality relate to income, earnings, and wealth mobility both within and across generations, and how do these relationships vary across demographic groups? What is the relationship between taxation, human capital investments, wealth accumulation and the intergenerational transfer of wealth and productivity over the life cycle? What is the relationship between social insurance policies (including paid parental leave, paid medical leave, and disability insurance) and intra- and inter-generational economic mobility?

The effects of inequality on the labor market. How, if at all, does inequality affect the smooth functioning of the labor market, including search frictions, monopsony, and bargaining power? Does market structure affect trends in inter-firm earnings inequality, and do those differ across industries, firm-size, or management structures? What explains the recent decrease in labor force participation rates across gender, age and race, and how might inequality be related to these trends? What role do public policies, including labor market regulations (e.g. minimum wages, scheduling stability and predictability legislation) and social insurance policies (e.g. paid family and medical leave, health insurance, disability insurance) play in smoothing labor market frictions and creating economic opportunity? How is inequality shaping the relationship between non-market and market work, e.g. in the case of the care economy?

Family formation and stability. How is inequality impacting the composition and function of the household as an economic unit? What role have inequalities in economic resources played in shaping time-use across racial, ethnic, and economic groups, as well as across family forms, and how, if at all, have inequalities in time use contributed to human capital development across the developmental arc? How, if at all, is inequality impacting family formation and family stability? What role do public policies (including taxes, labor market regulations, and social insurance) play in shaping family economic stability, and how does that differ across demographic and socio-economic groups?


How, if at all, does economic inequality impact the quantity and quality of innovation? We are interested in how innovation translates into productivity growth and how public policy may affect the pace of innovation, the rate of growth, and the distributions of the benefits from growth.

Areas of interest include but are not limited to:

Whether inequality affects who innovates. What is the relationship between economic inequality and individuals’ appetites for risk? How does economic inequality affect the quantity and quality of future innovators’ access to credit? Has economic inequality harmed or helped innovators’ returns on investment, and, if so, how? How do mechanisms to incentivize research and development affect the income and wealth distribution as well as productivity? What role do monopoly, market power, and the platform economy play in new business formation, firm growth, and innovation?

Whether inequality affects who benefits from innovation. Does economic inequality influence the kind of innovation that takes place, and who benefits from that innovation? Does economic inequality translate into social inequalities that help or hinder the effective dispersion of innovative ideas and products? Do technological innovations or any related re-organization of work, in turn, have an impact on inequality? We are also interested in research on new forms of workplace organization, including the “gig” or “sharing economy,” and whether and how these technological innovations are shaping the future of work, opportunity, mobility, and productivity.


On a fundamental level, all three prior channels – macroeconomics, human capital and the labor market, and innovation – are mediated by a wide range of institutions, all of which are shaped by policy choices. We are interested in the effect of levels and trends in economic inequality on the quality of social, economic, and political institutions contributing to economic well-being and economic growth. We are also interested in research that seeks to understand the role of these institutions and other structural factors in shaping relative group position, especially with regards to race and ethnicity, and the interaction of racial stratification and economic outcomes.

Areas of interest include but are not limited to:

Institutions mediating labor and well-being, such as labor market institutions and labor standards, social insurance, corporate human resource policies, unions, schools, and hospitals. How are these existing institutions succeeding or failing in the face of new forms of technology or workplace organization? We are particularly interested in proposals that take advantage of state and local policy variations in order to shed light on how these policies are shaping outcomes for both individuals and local economies.

Institutions mediating market structure and the distribution of economic resources and power. Topics of particular interest include rent-seeking, anti-competitive behavior, cartelization, regulation, and antitrust policy. How, if at all, do levels and trends in economic inequality impact corporate governance practices, and how do these institutional practices translate into economic outcomes for the economy as a whole? How have changes in market power influenced firms’ business investment decisions, and what is the potential role of market power in declining business investment? How does the role of market structure contribute to the phenomenon of rent-seeking? What factors contribute to inter- and intra-firm inequality and what are the implications of shifts in market structure and the “fissured workplace” on shaping income and earnings inequality?

Eligibility and Application Info

Solicitations are open to researchers affiliated with U.S. universities. Equitable Growth has two funding streams: Academic and Doctoral/Postdoctoral.

Academic grants are open to researchers affiliated with a U.S. university. The affiliated university must be the fiscal sponsor of the grant.

Doctoral/Postdoctoral grants are open to graduate students currently enrolled in a doctoral program at a U.S. university, and to recent Ph.D. graduates currently in a postdoctoral position at a U.S. university. If you are currently a graduate student or in a postdoctoral position, you may choose to apply for either an Academic or Doctoral/Postdoctoral grant, depending on the pool in which you’d like to compete.

Equitable Growth is willing to fund a wide range of activities, including researcher salary and benefits, research assistance, data purchase, and costs associated with conducting experiments or participating in professional conferences. Our grants cannot cover indirect overhead.

Academic grants are typically in the $25,000 to $100,000 range over 1 to 3 years. Doctoral/Postdoctoral grants are funded at $15,000 over 1 year. We will also consider proposals for larger grants for exceptional projects. We frequently partner with other foundations to support projects jointly or to share proposals that are not a fit for our grant program but which may be of interest to other funders.

For more information about the level of funding we provide, please see the descriptions of our 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 grantees’ project descriptions.

How to Apply

Academic grants

To apply for an Academic grant, submit a letter of inquiry using the online submission form. Letters of inquiry are short descriptions of a research project. They should be approximately two pages (about 1,200 words) in length. Letters of inquiry that are more than 2,000 words will not be considered. While we do not want to be overly prescriptive, the word limit is designed to encourage concision and clarity.

Letters of inquiry must include the problem addressed by the research, the methodological approach, and a timeline for completion. We encourage applicants to briefly explain how the research contributes to existing literature and/or whether the project will result in a new data source. Policy implications are also of considerable interest.

If tables, graphs, or other images are helpful in explaining your project, then they can be included. While they will not count against the word limit, we encourage you to limit the use of images to one or two.

A preliminary budget is also required and should be submitted as a brief narrative (approximately 50 to 150 words, though a strict limit is not enforced). At this stage, we are interested in the total expected cost of the project and a general breakdown of those costs (such as salary, research assistance, costs associated with data collection, travel, or conference fees). If applicable, please include a brief description of other secured or anticipated funding sources for the proposed work. A more detailed project budget will be required for applicants who are invited to submit a full proposal.

An abbreviated curriculum vitae is also required.

Academic letters of inquiry are due by 11:59 p.m. EST on January 31, 2018.

If invited, full proposals will be due by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 30, 2018. Full proposals will be reviewed by our research and policy staff, external peer reviewers, and members of our Steering Committee.

Funding decisions will be announced in June. We anticipate that funds will be distributed in early Fall 2018, though the timing of disbursement depends in part on the particulars of the project and the researcher’s home institution.

Doctoral/Postdoctoral grants

To apply for a Doctoral/Postdoctoral grant, online submission form. Doctoral/Postdoctoral applicants do not need to submit a letter of inquiry. Professional references are also not required if only applying for a Doctoral/Postdoctoral grant, though we do request a curriculum vitae.

Doctoral/Postdoctoral proposals should be approximately six single-spaced pages with standard font and margins (not including bibliography). Proposals should address the following: the problem or question your research seeks to address and how it relates to Equitable Growth’s mission, anticipated contribution to existing scholarship, detailed methodological approach, potential policy implications, and timeline for completion.

Doctoral submissions are due by 11:59 p.m. EST on March 5, 2018. Equitable Growth research staff will review all proposals, and the most promising proposals will be sent out for external review and reviewed by policy staff.

A preliminary budget is also required and should be submitted as a narrative. If direct costs such as data purchase or research assistance are anticipated, they should be listed. If funding will be used for support only, simply state that.

Funding decisions will be announced in June. We anticipate that funds will be distributed by the start of the 2018–19 academic year, though the timing of disbursement depends in part on the particulars of the project and whether it will be administered as an individual or institutional grant. The majority of Doctoral/Postdoctoral grants are administered as individual grants and are awarded directly to the individual. Institutional grants are typically awarded when the grantee is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or when funding will be used to purchase data or hire research assistance. Recipients must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to receive funding directly. Otherwise, funding is administered through the university. A decision on funding type is not needed until after awards are announced, although non-U.S. persons are advised to communicate their intention to apply with their institution to ensure adherence to institutional protocol if funded.

Junior Fellows Program

Equitable Growth has launched an in-residence Junior Fellows Program. The position is open to pre-dissertation or postdoctoral scholars whose research aligns with Equitable Growth’s funding priorities. Junior fellows are given office space, a full-time salary, and professional support, and are expected to support Equitable Growth’s grant program. Scheduling is flexible to permit for travel to home institutions, as well as academic conferences. Tenure is at least one academic year, with the possibility of extension into a second year.

To apply to the Junior Fellows Program, submit a proposal for a Doctoral/Postdoctoral grant. Application to the program requires two academic letters of reference, preferably from your chair and an advisor, and a statement of purpose.

The statement of purpose should be about two pages and should describe your motivating research questions, the direction you anticipate your research agenda taking, and how that relates to Equitable Growth’s mission, as well as how you hope to spend your time in Washington and how that will help further your career/research. Junior Fellows applicants will automatically be considered for a Doctoral grant.

Applicants selected to move forward in the Junior Fellows process will be asked to interview with Equitable Growth staff in person in May 2018. Selection decisions will be announced in June 2018.

Submit your Proposal

Submit your proposal by filling out the online submission form and uploading requested documents. If you have questions or are having trouble with the online form, please email grants@equitablegrowth.org or call (202) 545-3343. If you are having trouble with the online form and it is nearing the deadline, you may email your letter of inquiry/proposal as an attachment to grants@equitablegrowth.org.