Meet our fellows

Fellows and alumni

Each year 8-12 new Doctoral Fellows are selected from Harvard's Ph.D. programs in the social sciences.
Meet the 2016-2017 fellows ▶

Over 165 Inequality doctoral fellows have earned their Ph.D.'s.
See where they are now ▶

New fellowship opportunities

for Harvard Ph.D. students 

The Inequality and Wealth Concentration Ph.D. Scholars
The Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Ph.D. Scholars in Poverty and Justice

Fellowship awards
$32,000 dissertation stipend + $5,000 research funds

New lines of research
Top-end income inequality and wealth concentration

A distinctive new component will be a coordinated endeavor to advance new lines of research on top-end inequality and wealth concentration, the main drivers of U.S. economic inequality in recent decades.

With designated resources for Ph.D. students pursuing empirical research that will contribute to our understanding the nature of trends at the top of the distribution and their economic, political, social, and policy consequences.

Deadline for 2016-2017 Ph.D. Scholars has now passed.
Look for 2017-2018 application materials in March 2017.

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Seminar and events


View all upcoming seminars.

Upcoming event

2016 Oct 13

10 Big Ideas: Inequality and Wealth Concentration

4:10pm to 6:00pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Starr Auditorium, Belfer 2nd floor

An Inequality & Social Policy special event

10 Big Ideas. 8 minutes each. Infinitely thought-provoking.



James Feigenbaum

James Feigenbaum awarded Economic History Association dissertation prize for work on intergenerational mobility and inequality

September 18, 2016

Awardee | James Feigenbaum (Ph.D. in Economics '16) is the 2016 recipient of the Economic History Association's Allan Nevins Prize for best dissertation in American economic history, awarded for his Harvard doctoral dissertation, "Intergenerational Mobility and Inequality: Essays in Historical Labor Economics." Feigenbaum is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer at Princeton University, in the Industrial Relations Section, Department of Economics (2016-2017). In 2017 he joins the Economics faculty at Boston University as Assistant Professor of Economics.

Jessica Simes awarded first Boston University Provost Career Development Professorship

Jessica Simes awarded first Boston University Provost Career Development Professorship

September 16, 2016

Awardee | Jessica Simes (Ph.D. in Sociology '16), now an assistant professor at Boston University, has been awarded the first of two newly-endowed University Provost Career Development Professorships at that institution.  The three-year University Provost’s Career Development Professorships will support two junior faculty working in academic areas with “the greatest potential for impacting the quality and stature of the University, as determined by the provost." Simes, whose Harvard doctoral dissertation focused on racial inequality and the mass incarceration of African Americans, was recognized for her work in data science—"specifically the mapping of communities to reflect the percentage of incarcerated people—[which] has been the backbone of Simes’s research on race, poverty, and mass incarceration."

The Politico 50: Matthew Desmond

The Politico 50: Matthew Desmond

September 12, 2016

Politico | Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Social Science at Harvard—"for turning to a powerful source in explaining poverty: poor people themselves,"—has been named to The Politico 50, Politico's annual list of "thinkers transforming politics." From the citation: "In 2008, when Matthew Desmond moved into a poor Milwaukee neighborhood to begin what would become his groundbreaking study of eviction and its role in exacerbating poverty, the notion that a presidential race would be defined by progressive ideas about the evils of income inequality would have seemed almost inconceivable. But this year, the book that Desmond produced from that research—Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City—landed in the middle of a campaign in which outsider candidates from both parties pushed populist messages aimed at the working poor."

"Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, challenged stale notions about how poverty works through intimate portraits of eight families. One of his most notable discoveries was that evictions often were not the result of losing a job but rather the cause, a potentially game-changing insight into what traps people in poverty." A word of advice for the next president? "Fight poverty."

The Politico 50: George J. Borjas

The Politico 50: George J. Borjas

September 12, 2016

Politico | George J. Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, has been named to The Politico 50, Politico's annual list of "thinkers transforming politics."  From the citation: "But Borjas isn’t necessarily anti-immigration; in fact, his research shows immigration can benefit the nation overall. The real message he has been delivering since his pioneering 1994 study is that both political parties are far too simplistic when they talk about immigration’s harms and benefits. The problem is that immigration doesn’t lift everyone equally: Immigrants themselves get a lot out of it, as do business owners and people on the top of the economic pyramid. But it genuinely hurts many native-born Americans, especially low-skilled workers."

"But he doesn’t want immigration to end and doesn’t think a huge border wall is the answer. Rather, he wants to see a more serious conversation about solutions that acknowledges both the value and the costs of immigration—and, especially, the fact that those costs fall too heavily on certain Americans. His suggestion? Not a wall, but a safety net for the natives who have been displaced by immigrant labor."

Equitable Growth's Inaugural Grantee Conference

Equitable Growth's Inaugural Grantee Conference

September 25, 2016

Washington Center for Equitable Growth | Grantees Ellora Dernoncourt (Ph.D. candidate in Economics), Beth Truesdale (Ph.D. candidate in Sociology), and Vanessa Williamson (Ph.D. '15), now a Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, were among those attending Equitable Growth's inaugural grantee conference. Also participating: Nathaniel Hendren, Assistant Professor of Economics,  and Elisabeth Jacobs (Ph.D. '08), Senior Director for Policy at Equitable Growth. View the program.

Should Massachusetts Allow More Charter Schools?

Should Massachusetts Allow More Charter Schools?

September 21, 2016

EdNext Podcast | Sarah Cohodes (Ph.D. '15) and Education Next Editor-in-chief Marty West (Ph.D. '06) discuss the Massachusetts charter school ballot question. Cohodes is Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. West is Associate Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Why So Many Poor Americans Don't Get Help Paying for Housing

Why So Many Poor Americans Don't Get Help Paying for Housing

September 16, 2016

FiveThirtyEight | Quotes Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences. "Desmond said that by prioritizing assistance for homeownership — which mostly benefits middle-class and wealthy families — over rental assistance for the poor, the federal government is making the nation’s poverty problem worse...Desmond argues that unaffordable housing, and the subsequent instability, is often the catalyst for a cycle of poverty. And in his book, he says that instead of focusing housing policy on increasing homeownership, we should be 'pulling housing back to the center of the poverty debate.'"

How We Undercounted Evictions by Asking the Wrong Questions

How We Undercounted Evictions by Asking the Wrong Questions

September 15, 2016

FiveThirtyEight | The Milwaukee Area Renter's Study (MARS), the brainchild of Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, "may be the first rigorous, detailed look at eviction in a major city...Now the survey is going national: The Census Bureau recently agreed to add some of the MARS questions to its massive, biennial housing survey."

More news


Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment
Lynch, Kathleen, and James S. Kim. Forthcoming. “Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment.” Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis.Abstract

Prior research suggests that summer learning loss among low-income children contributes to income-based gaps in achievement and educational attainment. We present results from a randomized experiment of a summer mathematics program conducted in a large, high-poverty urban public school district. Children in the third to ninth grade (N = 263) were randomly assigned to an offer of an online summer mathematics program, the same program plus a free laptop computer, or the control group. Being randomly assigned to the program plus laptop condition caused children to experience significantly higher reported levels of summer home mathematics engagement relative to their peers in the control group. Treatment and control children performed similarly on distal measures of academic achievement. We discuss implications for future research.

The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013
Sampson, Robert J., and Alix S. Winter. Forthcoming. “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.” Du Bois Review 13 (2): 1-23.Abstract

This paper examines the racial ecology of lead exposure as a form of environmental inequity, one with both historical and contemporary significance. Drawing on comprehensive data from over one million blood tests administered to Chicago children from 1995-2013 and matched to over 2300 geographic block groups, we address two major questions: (1) What is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and variability in children’s elevated lead prevalence levels? And (2) what is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and rates of change in children’s prevalence levels over time within neighborhoods? We further assess an array of structural explanations for observed racial disparities, including socioeconomic status, type and age of housing, proximity to freeways and smelting plants, and systematic observations of housing decay and neighborhood disorder. Overall, our theoretical framework posits lead toxicity as a major environmental pathway through which racial segregation has contributed to the legacy of Black disadvantage in the United States. Our findings support this hypothesis and show alarming racial disparities in toxic exposure, even after accounting for possible structural explanations. At the same time, however, our longitudinal results show the power of public health policies to reduce racial inequities.

Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City
Perkins, Kristin L., Michael J. Lear, and Elyzabeth Gaumer. Forthcoming. “Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City.” Urban Affairs Review.Abstract

Recent research suggests that foreclosures have negative effects on homeowners and neighborhoods. We examine the association between concentrated foreclosure activity and the risk of a property with a foreclosure filing being scheduled for foreclosure auction in New York City. Controlling for individual property and sociodemographic characteristics of the neighborhood, being located in a tract with a high number of auctions following the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a significantly higher probability of scheduled foreclosure auction for the subject property. Concentration of foreclosure filings prior to the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a lower probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. Concentrated foreclosure auctions in the tract prior to a subject property’s own filing is not significantly associated with the probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. The implications for geographic targeting of foreclosure policy interventions are discussed.

Network Effects in Mexico—U.S. Migration: Disentangling the Underlying Social Mechanisms
Garip, Filiz, and Asad L. Asad. Forthcoming. “Network Effects in Mexico—U.S. Migration: Disentangling the Underlying Social Mechanisms.” American Behavioral Scientist.Abstract

Scholars have long noted how migration streams, once initiated, obtain a self-feeding character. Studies have connected this phenomenon, called the cumulative causation of migration, to expanding social networks that link migrants in destination to individuals in origin. While extant research has established a positive association between individuals’ ties to prior migrants and their migration propensities, seldom have researchers interrogated how multiple social mechanisms—as well as exposure to common environmental factors—might account for these interdependencies. This article uses a mixed-methods strategy to identify the social mechanisms underlying the network effects in Mexico–U.S. migration. Three types of social mechanisms are identified, which all lead to network effects: (a) social facilitation, which is at work when network peers such as family or community members provide useful information or help that reduces the costs or increases the benefits of migration; (b) normative influence, which operates when network peers offer social rewards or impose sanctions to encourage or discourage migration; and (c) network externalities, which are at work when prior migrants generate a pool of common resources that increase the value or reduce the costs of migration for potential migrants. The authors first use large-sample survey data from the Mexican Migration Project to establish the presence of network effects and then rely on 138 in-depth interviews with migrants and their family members in Mexico to identify the social mechanisms underlying these network effects. The authors thus provide a deeper understanding of migration as a social process, which they argue is crucial for anticipating and responding to future flows.

Getting 'What Works' working: Building blocks for the integration of experimental and improvement science
Peterson, Amelia. Forthcoming. “Getting 'What Works' working: Building blocks for the integration of experimental and improvement science.” International Journal of Research and Method in Education.Abstract

As a systemic approach to improving educational practice through research, ‘What Works’ has come under repeated challenge from alternative approaches, most recently that of improvement science. While ‘What Works’ remains a dominant paradigm for centralized knowledge-building efforts, there is need to understand why this alternative has gained support, and what it can contribute. I set out how the core elements of experimental and improvement science can be combined into a strategy to raise educational achievement with the support of evidence from randomized experiments. Central to this combined effort is a focus on identifying and testing mechanisms for improving teaching and learning, as applications of principles from the learning sciences. This article builds on current efforts to strengthen approaches to evidence-based practice and policy in a range of international contexts. It provides a foundation for those who aim to avoid another paradigm war and to accelerate international discussions on the design of systemic education research infrastructure and funding.

Intergroup Behavioral Strategies as Contextually Determined: Experimental Evidence from Israel
Enos, Ryan D., and Noam Gidron. Forthcoming. “Intergroup Behavioral Strategies as Contextually Determined: Experimental Evidence from Israel .” Journal of Politics. Supporting information: Online appendixAbstract

Why are the negative effects of social diversity more pronounced in some places than in others? What are the mechanisms underlying the relationship between diversity and discriminatory behaviors and why do they vary in prevalence and strength across locations? Experimental research has made advances in examining these questions by testing for differences in behavior when interacting with individuals from different groups. At the same time, research in American and comparative politics has demonstrated that attitudes toward other groups are a function of context. Uniting these two lines of research, we show that discriminatory behaviors are strongly conditioned by the ways in which groups are organized in space. We examine this claim in the context of intra-Jewish conflict in Israel, using original data compiled through multi-site lab-in-the-field experiments and survey responses collected across 20 locations.

Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, and Paul Secunda. 2016. “Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United.” UCLA Law Review 64 (2).Abstract

This Essay examines the growing threat of workplace political coercion, such as when employers attempt to threaten or coerce their workers into supporting firm-favored issues, policies, or political candidates. We describe, for the first time, the prevalence of such coercion, and propose a relatively straightforward legislative fix that would protect private-sector workers from the risk of political intimidation from their employers.

This Essay responds to an earlier piece published by Professor Secunda in the YLJ Forum that described how the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FECopened up the possibility for employers to hold mandatory “captive audience” meetings for workers, in which managers could endorse candidates for elected office. Managers, Secunda noted, could discipline workers who refused to participate in such firm-sponsored partisan activities. Accordingly, Secunda recommended federal legislation that would ban the use of mandatory political meetings in the private sector.

At the time that Secunda’s Essay was published, however, we lacked any systematic evidence of the prevalence or characteristics of employer political coercion in the American workforce, and so his recommendations could not be tailored to the specifics of employer political recruitment. New survey research from an ongoing academic project from Mr. Hertel-Fernandez, however, has provided precisely that information, documenting the extent to which workers have experienced political coercion from their employers. Our present Essay summarizes that survey evidence, using the empirical data to craft a bipartisan policy proposal that would address employer political coercion in the private sector by adding political opinions and beliefs to the list of protected classes in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lastly, we draw on survey research to describe why this proposal could attract bipartisan political support.

How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System
Clair, Matthew, and Alix S. Winter. 2016. “How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System.” Criminology 54 (2): 332-359.Abstract

Researchers have theorized how judges’ decision-making may result in the disproportionate presence of Blacks and Latinos in the criminal justice system. Yet, we have little evidence about how judges make sense of these disparities and what, if anything, they do to address them. By drawing on 59 interviews with state judges in a Northeastern state, we describe, and trace the implications of, judges’ understandings of racial disparities at arraignment, plea hearings, jury selection, and sentencing. Most judges in our sample attribute disparities, in part, to differential treatment by themselves and/or other criminal justice officials, whereas some judges attribute disparities only to the disparate impact of poverty and differences in offending rates. To address disparities, judges report employing two categories of strategies: noninterventionist and interventionist. Noninterventionist strategies concern only a judge's own differential treatment, whereas interventionist strategies concern other actors’ possible differential treatment, as well as the disparate impact of poverty and facially neutral laws. We reveal how the use of noninterventionist strategies by most judges unintentionally reproduces disparities. Through our examination of judges’ understandings of racial disparities throughout the court process, we enhance understandings of American racial inequality and theorize a situational approach to decision-making in organizational contexts.

Are Landlords Overcharging Housing Voucher Holders?
Desmond, Matthew, and Kristin L. Perkins. 2016. “Are Landlords Overcharging Housing Voucher Holders?.” City and Community 15 (2): 137-162.Abstract

The structure of rental markets coupled with the design of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), the largest federal housing subsidy for low-income families in the United States, provides the opportunity to overcharge voucher holders. Applying hedonic regression models to a unique data set of Milwaukee renters combined with administrative records, we find that vouchered households are charged between $51 and $68 more in monthly rent than unassisted renters in comparable units and neighborhoods. Overcharging voucher holders costs taxpayers an estimated $3.8 million each year in Milwaukee alone, the equivalent of supplying 620 additional families in that city with housing assistance. These findings suggest that the HCVP could be made more cost-effective—and therefore more expansive—if overcharging were prevented.

The Populist Style in American Politics: Presidential Campaign Rhetoric, 1952-1996
Bonikowski, Bart, and Noam Gidron. 2016. “The Populist Style in American Politics: Presidential Campaign Rhetoric, 1952-1996.” Social Forces 94 (4): 1593-1621.Abstract

This paper examines populist claims-making in US presidential elections. We define populism as a discursive strategy that juxtaposes the virtuous populace with a corrupt elite and views the former as the sole legitimate source of political power. In contrast to past research, we argue that populism is best operationalized as an attribute of political claims rather than a stable ideological property of political actors. This analytical strategy allows us to systematically measure how the use of populism is affected by a variety of contextual factors. Our empirical case consists of 2,406 speeches given by American presidential candidates between 1952 and 1996, which we code using automated text analysis. Populism is shown to be a common feature of presidential politics among both Democrats and Republicans, but its prevalence varies with candidates' relative positions in the political field. In particular, we demonstrate that the probability of a candidate's reliance on populist claims is directly proportional to his distance from the center of power (in this case, the presidency). This suggests that populism is primarily a strategic tool of political challengers, and particularly those who have legitimate claims to outsider status. By examining temporal changes in populist claims-making on the political left and right, its variation across geographic regions and field positions, and the changing content of populist frames, our paper contributes to the debate on populism in modern democracies, while integrating field theory with the study of institutional politics.