Who we are

Over 70 Harvard faculty members from across the university come together in the Inequality & Social Policy program.
Meet the faculty ▶

Each year 10-12 doctoral fellows are selected from Harvard's PhD programs in the social sciences. Harvard students may apply in late spring of their G-1 or G-2 year.
Meet the PhD Scholars ▶

Over 200 PhD social scientists began as Harvard Inequality & Social Policy doctoral fellows. 
See where they are now ▶

Twelve senior scholars from other universities participate as national faculty affiliates.
Meet the Stone Senior Scholars ▶

Alumni spotlight

Seminar and events

Combating Inequality PIIE conference

We Have the Tools to Reverse the Rise in Inequality

By Olivier Blanchard
and Dani Rodrik
Nov 20, 2019

What the authors learned from the Combating Inequality conference, held Oct 17-18 at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Olivier Blanchard is the C. Fred Bergsten Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Dani Rodrik is the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Combating Inequality: Rethinking Policies to Reduce Inequality in Advanced Economies

Day 1
Session 1: The Landscape
Session 2: Ethical and Philosophical Dimensions
Session 3: Political Dimensions
Session 4: The Distribution of Human Capital
Session 5: Trade, Outsourcing, and Foreign Investment
Session 6: The (Re)distribution of Financial Capital

Day 2
Session 1: Rate and Direction of Technological Change
Session 2: Labor Market Policies, Institutions, and Norms
Session 3: Labor Market Tools
Session 4: Social Safety Nets
Session 5: Progressive Taxation
Concluding Remarks

Video, slides, and papers ►

Program brochure | 2020-2021

ISP brochure 2020

Research spotlight: PhD Scholars


Danielle Allen

Why Coronavirus Is an ‘Existential Crisis’ for American Democracy

July 1, 2020

Politico | Q & A with Danielle Allen,  James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University. This moment is nothing less than an “existential crisis” that will reshape American society, says Danielle Allen, head of Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics and co-author of the university’s Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience. “It is a moment where societies are forced to answer the question of who they are. And I think [the U.S.] didn’t answer that question terribly well.”

Xiang Zhou

James Coleman Award for Best Article in the Sociology of Education

June 23, 2020

Awardees | Deirdre Bloome (PhD 2014), Shauna Dyer, and Harvard faculty member Xiang Zhou are the recipients of the James Coleman Award from the American Sociological Association's Section on Education for their article, "Educational Inequality, Educational Expansion, and Intergenerational Income Persistence in the United States," published in the American Sociolgical Review. Deirdre Bloome (PhD 2014) is now an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. Xiang Zhou is Associate Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.

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Our Common Purpose

Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century

June 11, 2020

American Academy of Arts and Sciences | Final report of the bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, co-chaired by Danielle Allen of Harvard University, Stephen B. Heintz, and Eric Liu. The report includes 31 recommendations to strengthen America’s institutions and civic culture to help a nation in crisis emerge with a more resilient democracy.

View the report ►
View launch event and discussion ►

Deirdre Bloome: ASA Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility 2020 William Julius Wilson Early Career Award

Deirdre Bloome: ASA Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility 2020 William Julius Wilson Early Career Award

June 3, 2020

Awardee | Deirdre Bloome PhD 2014 is a 2020 recipient (co-winner) of the William Julius Wilson Early Career award from the American Sociological Association's Section on Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility. The award recognizes a scholar who has made major contributions within 10 years of receiving the degree. Bloome, who received her PhD in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard in 2014, is now an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan.

Deirdre Bloome website ►
About the award ►

Michèle Lamont

Women in Research: Interview with Michèle Lamont

March 8, 2020
Wiley | In recognition of International Women's Day, Wiley is celebrating the resounding impact women in research have had on the advancement of their disciplines. It sat down with Harvard's Michèle Lamont, Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies and Sociology and African American Studies, to learn more about her story. Her top-cited article: "From ‘having’ to ‘being’: self‐worth and the current crisis of American society," published in the British Journal of Sociology (June 2019).
Read the research ►
Anthony Abraham Jack

Advice to students: Don’t be afraid to ask for help

March 6, 2020

Harvard Gazette | "At 11:43 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2015, I sent an email. And it changed my life." Anthony Abraham Jack argues we need to recast what it means to ask for help--not a sign of weakness, but a skill to be honed. Jack is Assistant Professor of Education and a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Dani Rodrik

Technology for All

March 6, 2020

Project Syndicate | By Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Harvard Kennedy School. "Technological change does not follow its own direction, but rather is shaped by moral frames, incentives, and power. If we think more about how innovation can be directed to serve society, we can afford to worry less about how we should adjust to it," Rodrik writes.

Jason Furman

Opinion: The Case for a Big Coronavirus Stimulus

March 5, 2020

Wall Street Journal | By Jason Furman, Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy, Harvard Kennedy School. Given the mounting economic risks posed by the spread of the novel coronavirus, Congress should act swiftly to pass a fiscal stimulus that is accelerated, big, comprehensive, and dynamic, Furman argues.

Anthony Abraham Jack

‘I Want to See You Here’: How to Make College a Better Bet for More People

February 27, 2020

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Anthony Abraham Jack (PhD 2016), Assistant Professor of Education at Harvard and the author of The Privileged Poor, joins a discussion with a campus leader, a public official, and a college counselor to explore how to lift more people's prospects. Read and watch excerpts from their conversation. Part of The Chronicle series, Broken Ladder, examining the role of education in social mobility.

Christina Cross

Christina J. Cross awarded University of Michigan ProQuest Dissertation Award

February 27, 2020

Awardee | Christina J. Cross, Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and Assistant Professor of Sociology (beginning 2021),  has been awarded a 2019 ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award by the University of Michigan for her doctoral dissertation, The Color, Class, and Context of Family Structure and Its Association with Children’s Educational Performance. The award is "given in recognition of the most exceptional scholarly work produced by doctoral students at the University of Michigan."

Nancy Pelosi

Up from Polarization

February 26, 2020

Dissent | By Daniel Schlozman PhD 2011,  Joseph and Bertha Bernstein Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University and the author of When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Reviewing Ezra Klein's Why We're Polarized, Schlozman writes that it " ultimately fails to account for our deepest divides...As he shifts focus to the dynamics of disagreement, he largely ignores the central conflict in contemporary politics: a particular form of racialized political economy, whose motor is the poisonous entente between racism and the one percent. Start there, and one gets a different picture of the problem, and of potential solutions."

Leah E. Gose

From the Tea Party to the Resistance

February 20, 2020

No Jargon | Leah E. Gose, a PhD candidate in Sociology and a Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Scholar in Poverty and Justice, explains how The Resistance compares with the Tea Party and what we can learn by looking at them together. A podcast of the Scholars Strategy Network.

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Does Public Opinion Affect Elite Rhetoric?
Hager, Anselm, and Hanno Hilbig. Forthcoming. “Does Public Opinion Affect Elite Rhetoric?” American Journal of Political Science. Abstract

Does public opinion affect elite rhetoric? This central question of political science has received little empirical scrutiny. Of particular interest is whether public opinion af- fects i) what topics elites address and ii) what positions they endorse. We add to this debate by drawing on unique evidence from Germany. In 2015, a legal ruling forced the German government to declassify all its public opinion research. Our causal identifica- tion strategy exploits the demonstrably exogenous timing of the reports’ dissemination to cabinet members within a window of a few days. We find that exposure to the public opinion reports leads elites to change their rhetoric markedly. Specifically, lin- guistic similarity between elite speech and public opinion increases significantly after reports are disseminated—a finding that points toward rhetorical agenda setting. By hand-coding a subset of 2,000 report-speech pairs, we also demonstrate that elites sub- stantively adapt their rhetoric to majority opinion.

Gender Bias in Rumors among Professionals: An Identity-Based Interpretation
Wu, Alice H. Forthcoming. “Gender Bias in Rumors among Professionals: An Identity-Based Interpretation.” The Review of Economics and Statistics. Abstract
This paper measures gender bias in discussions about women versus men in an online professional forum. I study the content of posts that refer to each gender, and the transitions in the topics between consecutive posts once attention turns to one gender or the other. Discussions about women tend to emphasize their personal characteristics instead of professional accomplishments. Posts about women are also more likely to lead to deviations from professional topics than posts about men. I interpret these findings through a model that highlights posters' incentives to boost their own identities relative to the underrepresented out-group in a profession.
Natural Hazards, Disasters, and Demographic Change
Raker, Ethan J. 2020. “Natural Hazards, Disasters, and Demographic Change.” Demography 57. Abstract
Natural hazards and disasters distress populations and inflict damage on the built environment, but existing studies yield mixed results regarding their lasting demographic implications. I leverage variation across three decades of block group exposure to an exogenous and acute natural hazard—severe tornadoes—to focus conceptually on social vulnerability and to empirically assess local net demographic change. Using matching techniques and a difference-in-difference estimator, I find that severe tornadoes result in no net change in local population size but lead to compositional changes, whereby affected neighborhoods become more white and socioeconomically advantaged. Moderation models show that the effects are exacerbated for wealthier communities and that a federal disaster declaration does not mitigate the effects. I interpret the empirical findings as evidence of a displacement process by which economically disadvantaged residents are forcibly mobile, and economically advantaged and white locals rebuild rather than relocate. To make sense of demographic change after natural hazards, I advance an unequal replacement of social vulnerability framework that considers hazard attributes, geographic scale, and impacted local context. I conclude that the natural environment is consequential for the socio-spatial organization of communities and that a disaster declaration has little impact on mitigating this driver of neighborhood inequality.
The Social Consequences of Disasters
Arcaya, Mariana, Ethan J. Raker, and Mary C. Waters. 2020. “The Social Consequences of Disasters.” Annual Review of Sociology 46 (1). Abstract
We review the findings from the last decade of research on the effects of disasters, concentrating on three important themes: the differences between the recovery of places vs. people, the need to differentiate between short and long term recovery trajectories, and the changing role of government and how it has exacerbated inequality in recovery and engendered feedback loops that create greater vulnerability. We reflect the focus of the majority of sociological studies on disasters by concentrating our review on studies in the United States, but we also include studies on disasters throughout the world if they contribute to our empirical and theoretical understanding of disasters and their impacts. We end with a discussion of the inevitability of more severe disasters as climate change progresses and call on social scientists to develop new concepts and to use new methods to study these developments.
Do Police Brutality Stories Reduce 911 Calls? Reassessing an Important Criminological Finding
Zoorob, Michael. 2020. “Do Police Brutality Stories Reduce 911 Calls? Reassessing an Important Criminological Finding.” American Sociological Review 85 (1): 176-183. Abstract
This paper reassesses the prominent claim from Desmond, Papachristos, and Kirk (2016) that 911 calls plummeted – and homicides surged – because of a police brutality story (the Jude story). The results in DPK depend on a substantial outlier 47 weeks after the Jude story, the final week of data. Identical analyses without the outlier final week show that the Jude story had no statistically significant effect on either total 911 calls or violent crime 911 calls. Modeling choices which do not extrapolate from data many weeks after the Jude story – including an event study and "regression discontinuity in time" – also find no evidence that calls declined, a consistent result across predominantly Black neighborhoods, predominantly White neighborhoods, and citywide. Finally, plotting the raw data demonstrates stable 911 calls in the weeks around the Jude story. Overall, the existing empirical evidence does not support the theory that publishing brutality stories decreases crime reporting and increases murders.
Forever Homes and Temporary Stops: Housing Search Logics and Residential Selection
Harvey, Hope, Kelley Fong, Kathryn Edin, and Stefanie DeLuca. 2020. “Forever Homes and Temporary Stops: Housing Search Logics and Residential Selection.” Social Forces 98 (4): 1498–1523. Abstract
Residential selection is central in determining children’s housing, neighborhood, and school contexts, and an extensive literature considers the social processes that shape residential searches and attainment. While this literature typically frames the residential search as a uniform process oriented around finding residential options with desired characteristics, we examine whether individuals may differentially conceive of these searches in ways that sustain inequality in residential attainment. Drawing on repeated, in-depth interviews with a stratified random sample of 156 households with young children in two metropolitan counties, we find that parents exhibit distinct residential search logics, informed by the constraints they face. Higher-income families usually engage in purposive searches oriented around their residential preferences. They search for “forever homes” that will meet their families’ needs for years to come. In contrast, low-income parents typically draw on a logic of deferral. While they hope to eventually search for a home with the unit, neighborhood, and school characteristics they desire, aspirations for homeownership lead them to conceive of their moves (which are often between rental units) as “temporary stops,” which justifies accepting homes that are inconsistent with their long-term preferences. In addition, because they are often “pushed” to move by negative circumstances, they focus on their immediate housing needs and, in the most extreme cases, adopt an “anywhere but here” approach. These logics constitute an unexamined mechanism through which economic resources shape residential searches and ultimate attainment.
Thick Red Tape and the Thin Blue Line: A Field Study on Reducing Administrative Burden in Police Recruitment
Linos, Elizabeth, and Nefara Riesch. 2020. “Thick Red Tape and the Thin Blue Line: A Field Study on Reducing Administrative Burden in Police Recruitment.” Public Administration Review 80: 92-103. Abstract
Police departments struggle to recruit officers, and voluntary drop‐off of candidates exacerbates this challenge. Using four years of administrative data and a field experiment conducted in the Los Angeles Police Department, the authors analyze the impact of administrative burden on the likelihood that a candidate will remain in the recruitment process. Findings show that reducing friction costs to participation and simplifying processes improve compliance, as behavioral public administration would predict. Applicants who were offered simpler, standardized processes completed more tests and were more likely to be hired. Later reductions to perceived burden led to an 8 percent increase in compliance, with a 60 percent increase in compliance within two weeks. However, removing steps that would have allowed for better understanding of eligibility kept unqualified candidates in the process for longer, reducing organizational efficiency. These results extend the field's understanding of how administrative burden can impact the selection of talent into government.
Screening in Contract Design: Evidence from the ACA Health Insurance Exchanges
Geruso, Michael, Timothy Layton, and Daniel Prinz. 2019. “Screening in Contract Design: Evidence from the ACA Health Insurance Exchanges.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 11 (2): 64-107. Abstract
We study insurers' use of prescription drug formularies to screen consumers in the ACA Health Insurance exchanges. We begin by showing that exchange risk adjustment and reinsurance succeed in neutralizing selection incentives for most, but not all, consumer types. A minority of consumers, identifiable by demand for particular classes of prescription drugs, are predictably unprofitable. We then show that contract features relating to these drugs are distorted in a manner consistent with multidimensional screening. The empirical findings support a long theoretical literature examining how insurance contracts offered in equilibrium can fail to optimally trade off risk protection and moral hazard.
A Look to the Interior: Trends in U.S. Immigration Removals by Criminal Conviction Type, Gender, and Region of Origin, Fiscal Years 2003-2015
Over the past two decades, the U.S. federal government has sought to increase its capacity to find, apprehend, and deport noncitizens residing in the United States who have violated federal immigration laws. One way the federal government has done this is by partnering with state and local law enforcement agencies on immigration enforcement efforts. The present study analyzes the records of all 1,964,756 interior removals between fiscal years 2003 and 2015 to examine how, if at all, the types of criminal convictions leading to removal from the U.S. interior have changed during this period of heightened coordination between law enforcement agencies and whether there are differences by gender and region of origin in the types of convictions leading to removal. Findings show that as coordination between law enforcement agencies intensified, the proportion of individuals removed from the U.S. interior with either no criminal convictions or with a driving-related conviction as their most serious conviction increased. Findings also show that the proportion of individuals removed with no criminal convictions was greater for women than for men and that the share of individuals removed with a driving-related conviction as their most serious conviction was greater for Latin Americans than for individuals from all other regions. Given renewed investment in these types of law enforcement partnerships under the Trump administration, the patterns presented in this article may foreshadow trends to come.
Twelve years later: The long-term mental health consequences of Hurricane Katrina
Raker, Ethan J., Sarah R. Lowe, Mariana C. Arcaya, Sydney T. Johnson, Jean Rhodes, and Mary C. Waters. 2019. “Twelve years later: The long-term mental health consequences of Hurricane Katrina.” Social Science & Medicine 242: 112610. Abstract
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused unprecedented damage, widespread population displacement, and exposed Gulf Coast residents to traumatic events. The hurricane's adverse impact on survivors' mental health was apparent shortly after the storm and persisted, but no study has examined the long-term effects now that more than a decade has transpired. Using new data from a panel study of low-income mothers interviewed once before Hurricane Katrina and now three times after, we document changes in mental health, and estimate the sociodemographic and hurricane-related factors associated with long-term trajectories of mental health. We find that post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) declined at each of the three post-Katrina follow-ups, but 12 years after the hurricane, one in six still had symptoms indicative of probable post-traumatic stress disorder. The rate of non-specific psychological distress (PD) remained consistently higher in all three follow-ups, compared to the pre-disaster period. In full covariate-adjusted models, no sociodemographic variables predicted long-run combinations of PTSS and PD. However, 12 years later, exposure to hurricane-related traumatic events and pre-disaster PD significantly predicted co-occurring PTSS and PD. Hurricane-related housing damage predicted PTSS in earlier follow-ups, but no longer predicted PTSS in the long-term. Furthermore, hurricane-related traumatic events significantly differentiated the risk of having persistent PTSS, relative to recovering from PTSS. The results suggest that there is still a non-negligible group of survivors with continued need for recovery resources and that exposure to traumatic events is a primary predictor of adverse mental health more than a decade post-disaster.
Fentanyl shock: The changing geography of overdose in the United States
Zoorob, Michael. 2019. “Fentanyl shock: The changing geography of overdose in the United States.” International Journal of Drug Policy 70: 40-46. Abstract

Background: Rapid increases in drug overdose deaths in the United States since 2014 have been highly regionally stratified, with the largest increases occurring in the eastern and northeastern states. By contrast, many western states saw overdose deaths plateau. This paper shows how the differential influx of fentanyl and fentanyl ana- logues in the drug supply has reshaped the geography and demography of the overdose crisis in the United States.

Methods: Using all state lab drug seizures obtained by Freedom of Information Act request, I analyze the re- gionally distinctive presence of fentanyl in the US drug supply with descriptive plots and statistical models. Main analyses explore state-year overdose trends using two-way fixed effects ordinary least squares (OLS) regression and two-stage least squares regression (2SLS) instrumenting for fentanyl exposure with state-longitude times a linear trend.

Results: First, fentanyl exposure is highly correlated with geography and only weakly explained by overdose rates prior to 2014. States in the east (higher degrees longitude) are much more heavily affected. Second, fentanyl exposure exhibits a statistically significant and important effect on overdose mortality, with model- predicted deaths broadly consistent with official death statistics. Third, fentanyl exposure explains most of the variation in increased overdose mortality between 2011 and 2017. Consequently, the epicenter of the overdose crisis shifted towards the eastern United States over these years.

Conclusion: These findings shed light on the “third-wave” of the overdose epidemic, characterized by rapid and geographically disparate changes in drug supply that heighten the risk of overdose. Above all, they underscore the urgency of adopting evidence-based policies to combat addiction in light of the rapidly changing drug environment.

Blue Endorsements Matter: How the Fraternal Order of Police Contributed to Donald Trump’s Victory
Zoorob, Michael. 2019. “Blue Endorsements Matter: How the Fraternal Order of Police Contributed to Donald Trump’s Victory.” PS: Political Science and Politics 52 (2): 243-250. Abstract

Conventional accounts of Donald Trump’s unexpected electoral victory stress idiosyncratic events and media celebrity because most observers assume this unusual candidate won without much organized support. However, considerable evidence suggests that the support of conservative organizational networks, including police unions such as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), propelled Trump to victory. The FOP is both a public-sector union and a conservative, mass-membership fraternal association that was courted by the Trump campaign at a time of politically charged debates about policing. Four years before, the FOP had refused to endorse Republican candidate Mitt Romney because he opposed public-sector unionism, which provided fruitful and rare variation in interest-group behavior across electoral cycles. Using a difference-in-differences approach, I find that FOP lodge density contributed to a significant swing in vote share from Romney to Trump. Moreover, survey evidence indicates that police officers reported increased political engagement in 2016 versus 2012. Belying the notion that Trump lacked a “ground game,” this research suggests that he tapped into existing organizational networks, showing their enduring importance in electoral politics.

Do Inheritance Customs Affect Political and Social Inequality?
Hager, Anselm, and Hanno Hilbig. 2019. “Do Inheritance Customs Affect Political and Social Inequality?” American Journal of Political Science 63 (4): 758-773. Abstract
Why are some societies more unequal than others? The French revolutionaries believed unequal inheritances among siblings to be responsible for the strict hierarchies of the ancien régime. To achieve equality, the revolutionaries therefore enforced equal inheritance rights. Their goal was to empower women and to disenfranchise the noble class. But do equal inheritances succeed in leveling the societal playing field? We study Germany—a country with pronounced local‐level variation in inheritance customs—and find that municipalities that historically equally apportioned wealth, to this day, elect more women into political councils and have fewer aristocrats in the social elite. Using historic data, we point to two mechanisms: wealth equality and pro‐egalitarian preferences. In a final step, we also show that, counterintuitively, equitable inheritance customs positively predict income inequality. We interpret this finding to mean that equitable inheritances level the playing field by rewarding talent, not status.
Shooting the Messenger
John, Leslie K., Hayley Blunden, and Heidi Liu. 2019. “Shooting the Messenger.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 148 (4): 644–666. Abstract
Eleven experiments provide evidence that people have a tendency to “shoot the messenger,” deeming innocent bearers of bad news unlikeable. In a preregistered lab experiment, participants rated messengers who delivered bad news from a random drawing as relatively unlikeable (Study 1). A second set of studies points to the specificity of the effect: Study 2A shows that it is unique to the (innocent) messenger and not mere bystanders. Study 2B shows that it is distinct from merely receiving information that one disagrees with. We suggest that people’s tendency to deem bearers of bad news as unlikeable stems in part from their desire to make sense of chance processes. Consistent with this account, receiving bad news activates the desire to sense-make (Study 3A), and in turn, activating this desire enhances the tendency to dislike bearers of bad news (Study 3B). Next, stemming from the idea that unexpected outcomes heighten the desire to sense-make, Study 4 shows that when bad news is unexpected, messenger dislike is pronounced. Finally, consistent with the notion that people fulfill the desire to sense-make by attributing agency to entities adjacent to chance events, messenger dislike is correlated with the belief that the messenger had malevolent motives (Studies 5A, 5B, & 5C). Studies 6A & 6B go further, manipulating messenger motives independently from news valence to suggest its causal role in our process account: the tendency to dislike bearers of bad news is mitigated when recipients are made aware of the benevolence of the messenger’s motives.
The Great Decoupling: The Disconnection Between Criminal Offending and Experience of Arrest Across Two Cohorts
Weaver, Vesla M., Andrew Papachristos, and Michael Zanger-Tishler. 2019. “The Great Decoupling: The Disconnection Between Criminal Offending and Experience of Arrest Across Two Cohorts.” RSF: Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 5 (1): 89-123. Abstract

Our study explores the arrest experiences of two generational cohorts—those entering adulthood on either side of a large shift in American policing. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979 and 1997), we find a stark increase in arrest odds among the later generation at every level of offending, suggesting a decoupling between contact with the justice system and criminal conduct. Furthermore, this decoupling became racially inflected. Blacks had a much higher probability of arrest at the start of the twenty-first century than both blacks of the generation prior and whites of the same generation. The criminal justice system, we argue, slipped from one in which arrest was low and strongly linked to offending to one where a substantial share of Americans experienced arrest without committing a crime.

We can help, but there’s a catch: Nonprofit organizations and access to government-funded resources among the poor
Siliunas, Andreja, Mario L. Small, and Joey Wallerstein. 2019. “We can help, but there’s a catch: Nonprofit organizations and access to government-funded resources among the poor.” Journal of Organizational Ethnography 8 (1): 109-128. Abstract
Today, low-income people seeking resources from the federal government must often work through non-profit organizations. The purpose of this paper is to examine the constraints that the poor must face today to secure resources through non-profit organizations. This is a conceptual paper. The authors review cases of non-profit organizations providing federally supported resources to the poor across multiple sectors.The authors find that to accept government contracts serving the poor, nonprofit organizations must often engage in one or several practices: reject clients normally consistent with their mission, select clients based on likely outcomes, ignore problems in clients’ lives relevant to their predicament, or undermine client progress to manage funding requirements. To secure government-supported resources from nonprofits, the poor must often acquiesce to intrusions into one or more of the following: their privacy (disclosing sensitive information), their self-protection (renouncing legal rights), their identity (avowing a particular self-understanding) or their self-mastery (relinquishing authority over daily routines). The authors show that the nonprofits’ dual role as brokers, both liaisons transferring resources and representatives of the state, can complicate their relation to their clients and the predicament of the poor themselves; the authors suggest that two larger trends, toward increasing administrative accountability and demonstrating deservingness, are having both intended and unintended consequences for the ability of low-income individuals to gain access to publicly funded resources.
Beyond Likely Voters: An Event Analysis of Conservative Political Outreach
Bautista-Chavez, Angie M., and Sarah E. James. 2019. “Beyond Likely Voters: An Event Analysis of Conservative Political Outreach.” Political Science Quarterly 134 (3): 407-443. Abstract
Angie M. Bautista-Chavez and Sarah E. James  look at the constituency-building strategies of three politically conservative organizations designed to reach veterans, millennials, and Latinos. They show how these organizations vary their outreach tactics to align the target audience with the political right.
Productivity and Pay: Is the Link Broken?
Stansbury, Anna, and Lawrence H. Summers. 2019. “Productivity and Pay: Is the Link Broken?” Facing Up to Low Productivity Growth. Peterson Institute for International Economics. Abstract
Median compensation in the U.S. has diverged starkly from labor productivity since 1973, and average compensation from productivity since 2000. In this paper, we ask: holding all else equal, to what extent does productivity growth translate into compensation growth for typical American workers?  We regress median, average, and production/nonsupervisory compensation growth on productivity growth in various specifications, finding substantial evidence of linkage between productivity and compensation. Over 1973–2016, one percentage point higher productivity growth was associated with 0.7-1 percentage points higher median and average compensation growth and with 0.4-0.7 percentage points higher production/nonsupervisory compensation growth. Further, we do not find strong evidence of co-movement between productivity growth and either the labor share or the mean/median compensation ratio. Our results tend to militate against pure technology-based theories of the productivity-compensation divergence, which would suggest that periods of higher productivity growth should also be periods of higher productivity-pay divergence. They suggest that factors orthogonal to productivity have been acting to suppress typical compensation even as productivity growth has been acting to raise it, and that faster future productivity growth is likely to boost median and average compensation growth close to one-for-one
The Organization of Neglect: Limited Liability Companies and Housing Disinvestment
Travis, Adam. 2019. “The Organization of Neglect: Limited Liability Companies and Housing Disinvestment.” American Sociological Review 84 (1): 142-170. Abstract
Sociological accounts of urban disinvestment processes rarely assess how landlords’ variable investment strategies may be facilitated or constrained by the legal environment. Nor do they typically examine how such factors might, in turn, affect housing conditions for city dwellers. Over the past two decades, the advent and diffusion of the limited liability company (LLC) has reshaped the legal landscape of rental ownership. Increasingly, rental properties are owned by business organizations that limit investor liability, rather than by individual landlords who own property in their own names. An analysis of administrative records and survey data from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, demonstrates that signs of housing disinvestment increase when properties transition from individual to LLC ownership. This increase is not explained by selection on property characteristics or by divergent pre-transfer trends. Results affirm that real estate investors are responsive to changes in the legal environment and that the protective structure of the LLC facilitates housing disinvestment in Milwaukee. Elaborating the role of real estate investors can deepen accounts of neighborhood change processes and help explain variation in local housing conditions. Ultimately, public policies that enable business operators to circumscribe or reallocate risk may generate unintended costs for consumers and the public.
Subject to Evaluation: How Parents Assess and Mobilize Information from Social Networks in School Choice.
A rich literature examines how information spreads through social networks to influence life opportunities. However, receiving information does not guarantee its use in decision making. This article analyzes information evaluation as a fundamental component of social network mobilization. The case of school choice, where the value of information may be more uncertain, brings this evaluative dimension to the forefront. Interviews with 55 parents in Boston show how parents selecting schools assess their social network ties as information sources, privileging information from those they perceive to have affinity and authority. These evaluative criteria map onto disparate networks to engender unequal mobilization of this information. The findings illuminate mechanisms sustaining inequality in social network mobilization and reorient scholars to consider processes underlying information use alongside information diffusion to attain a more complete understanding of how network resources are mobilized in action.
Concealment and Constraint: Child Protective Services Fears and Poor Mothers’ Institutional Engagement
With the expansion of state surveillance and enforcement efforts in recent decades, a growing literature examines how those vulnerable to punitive state contact strategize to evade it. This article draws on in-depth interviews with eighty-three low-income mothers to consider whether and how concerns about Child Protective Services (CPS), a widespread presence in poor communities with the power to remove children from their parents, inform poor mothers’ institutional engagement. Mothers recognized CPS reports as a risk in interactions with healthcare, educational, and social service systems legally mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Departing from findings on responses to policing and immigration enforcement, I find that CPS concerns rarely prompted mothers to avoid systems wholesale. Within their system participation, however, mothers engaged in a selective or constrained visibility, concealing their hardships, home life, and parenting behavior from potential reporters. As reporting systems serve as vital sources of support for disadvantaged families, mothers’ practices of information management, while perhaps protecting them from CPS reports, may preclude opportunities for assistance and reinforce a sense of constraint in families’ institutional interactions.
Punishing and toxic neighborhood environments independently predict the intergenerational social mobility of black and white children
Manduca, Robert, and Robert J. Sampson. 2019. “Punishing and toxic neighborhood environments independently predict the intergenerational social mobility of black and white children.” PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (16): 7772-7777. Abstract
We use data on intergenerational social mobility by neighborhood to examine how social and physical environments beyond concentrated poverty predict children’s long-term well-being. First, we examine neighborhoods that are harsh on children’s development: those characterized by high levels of violence, incarceration, and lead exposure. Second, we examine potential supportive or offsetting mechanisms that promote children’s development, such as informal social control, cohesion among neighbors, and organizational participation. Census tract mobility estimates from linked income tax and Census records are merged with surveys and administrative records in Chicago. We find that exposure to neighborhood violence, incarceration, and lead combine to independently predict poor black boys’ later incarceration as adults and lower income rank relative to their parents, and poor black girls’ teenage motherhood. Features of neighborhood social organization matter less, but are selectively important. Results for poor whites also show that toxic environments independently predict lower social mobility, as do features of social organization, to a lesser extent. Overall, our measures contribute a 76% relative increase in explained variance for black male incarceration beyond that of concentrated poverty and other standard characteristics, an 18% increase for black male income rank (70% for whites), and a 17% increase for teenage motherhood of black girls (40% for whites).
The Contribution of National Income Inequality to Regional Economic Divergence
Manduca, Robert. 2019. “The Contribution of National Income Inequality to Regional Economic Divergence.” Social Forces 98 (2): 622-648. Abstract
After more than a century of convergence, the economic fortunes of rich and poor regions of the United States have diverged dramatically over the last 40 years. Roughly a third of the US population now lives in metropolitan areas that are substantially richer or poorer than the nation as a whole, almost three times the proportion that did in 1980. In this paper I use counterfactual simulations based on Census microdata to understand the dynamics of regional divergence. I first show that regional divergence has primarily resulted from the richest people and places pulling away from the rest of the country. I then estimate the relative contributions to regional divergence of two major socioeconomic trends of recent decades: the sorting of people across metro areas by income level and the national rise in income inequality. I show that the national rise in income inequality is sufficient on its own to account for more than half of the observed divergence across regions, while income sorting on its own accounts for less than a quarter. The major driver of regional economic divergence is national-level income dispersion that has exacerbated preexisting spatial inequalities.
Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation
Bell, Alex, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, and John Van Reenen. 2019. “Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 134 (2): 647–713. Abstract
We characterize the factors that determine who becomes an inventor in the United States, focusing on the role of inventive ability (“nature”) versus environment (“nurture”). Using deidentified data on 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records, we first show that children’s chances of becoming inventors vary sharply with characteristics at birth, such as their race, gender, and parents’ socioeconomic class. For example, children from high-income (top 1%) families are 10 times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. These gaps persist even among children with similar math test scores in early childhood—which are highly predictive of innovation rates—suggesting that the gaps may be driven by differences in environment rather than abilities to innovate. We directly establish the importance of environment by showing that exposure to innovation during childhood has significant causal effects on children’s propensities to invent. Children whose families move to a high-innovation area when they are young are more likely to become inventors. These exposure effects are technology class and gender specific. Children who grow up in a neighborhood or family with a high innovation rate in a specific technology class are more likely to patent in exactly the same class. Girls are more likely to invent in a particular class if they grow up in an area with more women (but not men) who invent in that class. These gender- and technology class–specific exposure effects are more likely to be driven by narrow mechanisms, such as role-model or network effects, than factors that only affect general human capital accumulation, such as the quality of schools. Consistent with the importance of exposure effects in career selection, women and disadvantaged youth are as underrepresented among high-impact inventors as they are among inventors as a whole. These findings suggest that there are many “lost Einsteins”—individuals who would have had highly impactful inventions had they been exposed to innovation in childhood—especially among women, minorities, and children from low-income families.
Do Tax Cuts Produce more Einsteins? The Impacts of Financial Incentives Versus Exposure to Innovation on the Supply of Inventors
Bell, Alex, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, and John Van Reenen. 2019. “Do Tax Cuts Produce more Einsteins? The Impacts of Financial Incentives Versus Exposure to Innovation on the Supply of Inventors.” Journal of the European Economic Association 17 (3): 651–677. Abstract
Many countries provide financial incentives to spur innovation, ranging from tax incentives to research and development grants. In this paper, we study how such financial incentives affect individuals’ decisions to pursue careers in innovation. We first present empirical evidence on inventors’ career trajectories and income distributions using deidentified data on 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records in the United States. We find that the private returns to innovation are extremely skewed—with the top 1% of inventors collecting more than 22% of total inventors’ income—and are highly correlated with their social impact, as measured by citations. Inventors tend to have their most impactful innovations around age 40 and their incomes rise rapidly just before they have high-impact patents. We then build a stylized model of inventor career choice that matches these facts as well as recent evidence that childhood exposure to innovation plays a critical role in determining whether individuals become inventors. The model predicts that financial incentives, such as top income tax reductions, have limited potential to increase aggregate innovation because they only affect individuals who are exposed to innovation and have essentially no impact on the decisions of star inventors, who matter most for aggregate innovation. Importantly, these results hold regardless of whether the private returns to innovation are fully known at the time of career choice or are fully stochastic. In contrast, increasing exposure to innovation (e.g., through mentorship programs) could have substantial impacts on innovation by drawing individuals who produce high-impact inventions into the innovation pipeline. Although we do not present direct evidence supporting these model-based predictions, our results call for a more careful assessment of the impacts of financial incentives and a greater focus on alternative policies to increase the supply of inventors.
Antitrust Enforcement as Federal Policy to Reduce Regional Economic Disparities
Manduca, Robert. 2019. “Antitrust Enforcement as Federal Policy to Reduce Regional Economic Disparities.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 685 (1): 156-171. Abstract
Regions of the United States have seen their incomes diverge dramatically over the last four decades. This article makes the empirical and political case for treating regional economic disparities as a national phenomenon best resolved through federal policy, rather than exclusively as a matter of local responsibility. It then considers reinvigorated antitrust enforcement as an example of a federal policy that would strengthen local economies while benefiting from policy feedback effects.
The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor
Daminger, Allison. 2019. “The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor.” American Sociological Review 84 (4): 609-633. Abstract
Household labor is commonly defined as a set of physical tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Sociologists sometimes reference non-physical activities related to “household management,” but these are typically mentioned in passing, imprecisely defined, or treated as equivalent to physical tasks. Using 70 in-depth interviews with members of 35 couples, this study argues that such tasks are better understood as examples of a unique dimension of housework: cognitive labor. The data demonstrate that cognitive labor entails anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress. Because such work is taxing but often invisible to both cognitive laborers and their partners, it is a frequent source of conflict for couples. Cognitive labor is also a gendered phenomenon: women in this study do more cognitive labor overall and more of the anticipation and monitoring work in particular. However, male and female participation in decision-making, arguably the cognitive labor component most closely linked to power and influence, is roughly equal. These findings identify and define an overlooked—yet potentially consequential—source of gender inequality at the household level and suggest a new direction for research on the division of household labor.
Unemployment insurance and reservation wages: Evidence from administrative data
Barbanchon, Thomas Le, Roland Rathelot, and Alexandra Roulet. 2019. “Unemployment insurance and reservation wages: Evidence from administrative data.” Journal of Public Economics 171: 1-17. Abstract

Although the reservation wage plays a central role in job search models, empirical evidence on the determinants of reservation wages, including key policy variables such as unemployment insurance (UI), is scarce. In France, unemployed people must declare their reservation wage to the Public Employment Service when they register to claim UI benefits. We take advantage of these rich French administrative data and of a reform of UI rules to estimate the effect of the Potential Benefit Duration (PBD) on reservation wages and on other dimensions of job selectivity, using a difference-in-difference strategy. We cannot reject that the elasticity of the reservation wage with respect to PBD is zero. Our results are precise and we can rule out elasticities larger than 0.006. Furthermore, we do not find any significant effects of PBD on the desired number of hours, duration of labor contract and commuting time/distance. The estimated elasticity of actual benefit duration with respect to PBD of 0.3 is in line with the consensus in the literature. Exploiting a Regression Discontinuity Design as an alternative identification strategy, we find similar results.



William Julius Wilson

Harvard symposium honors William Julius Wilson's five decades of work on race, class, and inequality

September 12, 2019

Harvard Gazette | To follow the career of William Julius Wilson is to trace the evolution of the national conversation on race and class in American over the past half century.

That was the overarching theme of a three-day symposium celebrating the career of the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor Emeritus.

Professor Wilson has been an extraordinary influence to the many Harvard PhD students he advised since joining the faculty in 1996. He was one of the four founders—together with colleagues Katherine Newman, David Ellwood, and Christopher Jencks—of the Inequality & Social Policy program in 1998, and he has taught many of the nearly 300 PhD students who have come through the program since.

View symposium program + video ►

Devah Pager

Race and Networks in the Job Search Process

American Sociological Review
David S. Pedulla and Devah Pager
Online First: November 7, 2019

Devah Pager was the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Sociology at Harvard University and Director of the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy until her death in November 2018. David Pedulla is Associate Professor of Sociology at Stanford University.

View article (open access) ▶