Grant Category

Human Capital and Wellbeing

How does economic inequality affect the development of human capital, and to what extent do aggregate trends in human capital explain inequality dynamics?

The acquisition and deployment of human capital in the market drives advances in productivity. The extent to which someone is rich or poor, experiences family instability, faces discrimination, or grows up in an opportunity-rich or opportunity-poor neighborhood affects future economic outcomes and can subvert the processes that lead to productivity gains, which drive long-term growth.

How does economic inequality affect the development of human capital, and to what extent do aggregate trends in human capital explain inequality dynamics? To what extent can social programs counteract these underlying dynamics? We are interested in proposals that investigate the mechanisms through which economic 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.

  • Economic opportunity and intergenerational mobility
  • Economic instability
  • Family stability
  • Neighborhood characteristics

Explore the Grants We've Awarded


The impacts of welfare cuts on well-being during the Great Recession: Evidence from linked U.S. administrative and survey data

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $15,000

Grant Type: doctoral

This research project will examine the short- and long-run impacts of being suddenly removed from critical government programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Famiies program. The author will utilize the case of Indiana, which, in 2007, attempted to automate its welfare systems, resulting in a number of individuals being removed from essential welfare programs. The author will use linked administrative and survey data to first analyze the effects of the policy change on enrollment and demographics in the programs and then identify the short- and long-term impact of being removed from welfare on earnings, occupation, financial solvency, and health outcomes.

The long-term evolution of inequality: Poverty, pollution, and human capital

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $61,000

Grant Type: academic

Environmental inequity is intertwined with income inequality in a variety of ways. Demand for housing, for example, is higher in cleaner areas than in polluted ones, and, at the same time, evidence is accumulating that the communities in which children grow up have long-lasting impacts on their economic and other social outcomes. Other research finds that pollution exposure in utero and in early childhood can have lifelong effects on economic outcomes, suggesting pollution may be one important characteristic of the communities in which children grow up. This project engages with these issues by investigating the relationships among race/ethnicity, income, pollution, and human capital in Pittsburgh from 1910 to 2010. The two main areas of research are sorting by race that leads to inequality in pollution exposure, and the effects of childhood exposure to pollution on adult income. Although limited to Pittsburgh, it is a strategic site. Once considered "Hell with a lid off" because of the intense pollution arising from the furnaces of the steel industry, exposure to pollution used to be extremely high in the early 20th century but has since declined dramatically, allowing for the comparison over time. To do this, the authors will take advantage of never-before-used historical data and link it to demographic characteristics of individuals with known residential locations to pollution exposure, jobs, and future outcomes. An anonymized version of these data will be made publicly available, creating a valuable resource for future research.

Recessions during young adulthood and U.S. racial income inequality

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $20,000

Grant Type: academic

This research promises to advance our understanding of employment scarring by empirically teasing out the racial differences in long-term consequences of deep U.S. economic downturns for those who are relatively young when a recession hits. Focusing on the 1980 recession, which was both deep and long, the author will use a triple-difference approach to examine the recession’s long-run effects by comparing the incomes in adulthood of teens (ages 14 to 17) and young adults (ages 18 to 22) (first difference), living in counties with a more-severe versus less-severe recessions (second difference), who are Black or Hispanic versus White (third difference). Using the differences in the severity of the recession across local areas as an identifying variation, the author will utilize individual-level data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1979, along with county-level location data with special access from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 1980 recession is far enough in the past to allow a study of the outcomes of the sample when individuals are in their mid-30s to mid-40s years of age. This research is poised to provide insight into the long-run effects of recessions on Black and Hispanic youth who resided in regions where the recession was deepest, adding nuance to our understanding of the “scarring” effects of recessions on young workers by adding a racial component. Giving the current economic situation, it is clear why this research is relevant to current policy debates.

Building a new national data infrastructure for the study of wealth inequality and wealth mobility

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $25,000

Grant Type: academic

Previous research indicates that wealth inequality in the United States has increased since the mid-20th century and is much higher than income inequality. Wealth inequality is particularly worrisome since wealth provides many advantages, including securing against shocks and transferability to the next generation. Yet despite the relevance of wealth for our understanding of inequality and mobility, available data on wealth inequality is limited. This project will make an important contribution by drawing on tax data linked to external data on housing equity to overcome the limitations of survey data and by linking these data across generations within families and by generating geographic aggregates at small-scale geographical levels. This will allow the author to answer pressing questions, such as how concentrated wealth is locally and the stickiness of the wealth distribution across generations.

The impact of a tuition credit program on Pell-eligible student outcomes

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $67,000

Grant Type: academic

Research shows how important college is to upward economic mobility. Yet there are many barriers to getting into and completing college, most notably cost. Community colleges are frequently touted as a cost-effective path, whereby students begin at a community college and then transfer to a 4-year university. This research focuses on transfer students and Wisconsin’s Promise Tuition grants, a place-based scholarship which offers debt-free tuition assistance. Over the past decade, more and more states and postsecondary institutions are offering such grants, yet there is virtually no research that focuses on their impact on transfer students, particularly transfer students’ degree completion. This project explores the intersection between transfer students, their perceptions related to college finances, and the design of Promise Tuition scholarships and grants by using a mixed methods study. The first part utilizes student-level administrative data from the University of Wisconsin to examine course-taking patterns, credits attempted and completed, Grade Point Average, persistence rates, financial aid eligibility and receipt, and degrees conferred. The second part is a survey of a random sample of transfer students in order to elicit information regarding college experiences and finances. This rich case study promises to inform not only policy debates around college affordability and completion, but also our understanding of how the institutional structures of postsecondary education in the United States are supporting or inhibiting intergenerational mobility.

Measuring intergenerational mobility in the United States over the 20th century

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $70,000

Grant Type: academic

A clearer picture of U.S. intergenerational mobility is emerging for the latter part of the 20th century, but the same is not true for earlier in the century. This project is a massive data undertaking that will produce a database of mobility rates going back to 1900. Previous work, most notably the American Opportunity Study, links U.S. Census Decennials from 1940–2000. This project makes some important extensions. It will expand the feasible linkages back to 1900 so that the panel spans the entire 20th century. Perhaps the most important contribution is the use of the Social Security Numerical Identification Files, or SS-5s, which contain information obtained from the application for a Social Security card for more than 40 million individuals who died prior to 2007 and include substantially more information on individuals than U.S. Census records, increasing the number of linkages and the quality of those linkages. In particular, the wealth of information in a single record is vastly superior to a Census-to-Census linking process and will better facilitate linkages within families, including for married women who have changed their names, improving the representation of women and racial and ethnic minorities. This will allow the researchers to study differences across space (states), as well as differences by race and gender.


Former Steering Committee

Janet Currie

Princeton University

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Till von Wachter

University of California, Los Angeles

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Kathleen Ziol-Guest

New York University

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Guest Author

Leah Stokes

University of California, Santa Barbara

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Tanya Byker

Middlebury College

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Our funding interests are organized around the following four drivers of economic growth: the macroeconomy, human capital and the labor market, innovation, and institutions.

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