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Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

Confiscated guns

America's Obsession with Powerful Handguns is Giving Criminals Deadlier Tools

December 5, 2016

The Trace | Cites David Hureau (Ph.D. '16), Assistant Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at SUNY Albany and an affiliate of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Hureau, whose research focuses on the relationship between violent crime and social inequality, has studied the market for illegal guns.

Donald Trump’s Electoral College Win and the Enormous Hurdles for Reversal

Donald Trump’s Electoral College Win and the Enormous Hurdles for Reversal

December 4, 2016

Wall Street Journal | Cites Alexander Keyssar, Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy: “The amendment process is extremely difficult,” said Keyssar...who added that it nearly happened in 1969 when the House approved a proposal to reform the electoral process only to have it killed the next year by a Senate filibuster led by North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin.

Impact 2016: Building Broad Prosperity

Impact 2016: Building Broad Prosperity

December 2, 2016

Center on Budget & Policy Priorities | Matthew Desmond talked housing policy with William Julius Wilson as the closing plenary speaker at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities State Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The three-day conference brought together policy experts, state leaders, and advocates to discuss policies to promote equity and prosperity.

House lawmakers passed the biggest health reform bill since the Affordable Care Act

House lawmakers passed the biggest health reform bill since the Affordable Care Act

December 1, 2016

Vox | Cites Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government: "Carpenter, who wrote a history of the FDA, has called the bill the "19th Century Frauds Act." He continued: "The clauses on using purely observational data for drug approval and what amounts to anecdotal evidence for devices are deeply anti-scientific and would undermine the credibility of the American market for drugs and medical devices...This act would seriously undermine that credibility, and by extension the market as a whole."

Retail Investors Often Get Biased Financial Advice, Study Finds

Retail Investors Often Get Biased Financial Advice, Study Finds

December 1, 2016

Institutional Investor | "A trio of finance and economics professors [Antoinette Scholar (MIT), Sendhil Mullainathan (Harvard), and Markus Noeth (University of Hamburg)] concluded in a paper published in 2012 that retail investors really do need fiduciaries to shield them from poor financial advice. They finally got some protection in the Department of Labor’s so-called fiduciary rule, set to take effect in April 2017 — but the future of that rule now hangs in the balance, just as these researchers have produced fresh findings reinforcing their original conclusions."

The potential downside of automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans

The potential downside of automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans

December 1, 2016

Investment News | The practice boosts employees' savings rates, but it may also be financed in some cases by increases in consumer debt, according to new research in a forthcoming report by John Beshears (Harvard Business School), David Laibson (Dept of Economics), Brigitte Madrian (Harvard Kennedy School).

Likely Policies Under Trump

Likely Policies Under Trump

November 30, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Faculty from Harvard's Government Department—including Danielle Allen, Jennifer Hochschild, Claudine Gay—gathered for a post-election panel, "Trump's America: What's Next?," which explored what a Trump administration portends for voting rights, foreign policy, economics, and American democracy.

Donald Trump has every reason to keep white people thinking about race

Donald Trump has every reason to keep white people thinking about race

November 30, 2016

Vox | "There’s a growing body of research in political science and political psychology suggesting that even very mild messages or cues that touch on race can alter political opinions." Highlights work by Ryan D. Enos, Associate Professor of Government, who "sent pairs of native Spanish-speaking Latino men to ride commuter trains in Boston, surveyed their fellow riders' political views both before and after, and also surveyed riders on trains not used in the experiment as a control.

"'The results were clear,' Enos wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. 'After coming into contact, for just minutes each day, with two more Latinos than they would otherwise see or interact with, the riders, who were mostly white and liberal, were sharply more opposed to allowing more immigrants into the country and favored returning the children of illegal immigrants to their parents’ home country. It was a stark shift from their pre-experiment interviews, during which they expressed more neutral attitudes.'

"Dwell on that. Merely being in the presence of Latino people changed liberal voters’ attitudes on immigration. That’s among the most subtle cues imaginable. And this is a study conducted in the field, among real people, not in a lab."
View the research 

Five Books to Change Conservatives' Minds

Five Books to Change Conservatives' Minds

November 30, 2016

Bloomberg View | Cass R. Sunstein column urges progressives and conservatives to escape their respective echo chambers by reading the best of each otther's work. Here he recommends five for conservatives, including Scarcity: Why Having Less Means So Much, by Sendhil Mullainathan (Robert C. Waggoner Professor of Economics) and Eldar Shafir (Princeton University).

"Mullainathan and Shafir demonstrate that these diverse forms of scarcity have something important in common: They take over our minds, leaving us with limited “bandwidth.”...Mullainathan and Shafir show why many public policy initiatives, which impose “bandwidth taxes” (for example, by making people fill out complex forms to receive financial assistance), turn out to be unhelpful and even counterproductive."… Read more about Five Books to Change Conservatives' Minds

Stop Treating HUD Like a Second-Tier Department

Stop Treating HUD Like a Second-Tier Department

November 30, 2016

FiveThirtyEight | Four reasons why HUD and housing policy matter—for poverty, homeownership and affordability, and in fighting discrimination and segregation. Cites research by Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard, and notes that Desmond's work was instrumental in getting eviction-related questions added to the 2017 American Housing Survey. 

Hard Time Gets Hard Look

Hard Time Gets Hard Look

November 29, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology and Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy, Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Fellow with the Malcolm Wiener Center's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Judge Nancy Gertner, Senior Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, relate their experience with criminal justice policy in a seminar aimed at reducing the country's bloated prison population. 

A Conversation with Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy

A Conversation with Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy

November 28, 2016

The JFK Jr Forum  | Vivek H. Murthy, United States Surgeon General, joined Amitabh Chandra, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy, at the JFK Jr. Forum for a conversation on America's healthcare issues relating to opioid addiction, gun violence, and changes to healthcare laws under the new administration. Co-sponsored by the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.
Watch video ▶

The Hidden Costs of Immigration

The Hidden Costs of Immigration

November 22, 2016

Claremont Review of Books | Review of George J. Borjas's We Wanted Workers, by Christopher Caldwell. Borjas is the Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The Costs of Being Poor

The Costs of Being Poor

November 21, 2016

The American Prospect | Two new books explore how difficult the housing market and criminal justice system make it to climb out of poverty. Adam D. Reich of Columbia University reviews Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciencest at Harvard, and A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poor, by Alexis Harris, University of Washington.

Donald Trump's infrastructure plan wouldn't actually fix America's infrastructure problems

Donald Trump's infrastructure plan wouldn't actually fix America's infrastructure problems

November 18, 2016

Vox | Quotes Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics: "This is unlikely to do much for road and bridge maintenance...And [economists] have long believed that the highest returns are for fixing existing infrastructure.”

“If [we] only built projects that could cover their costs with user charges, we would have far fewer white elephant projects,” says Harvard’s Glaeser. “However, we would also miss good projects as well. In particular, we would miss projects that mainly serve the less advantaged. Asking buses to pay for themselves would be a mistake.”

America's Surprising Views on Income Inequality

America's Surprising Views on Income Inequality

November 17, 2016

The New Yorker | Cites research by psychologists Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University, which found that people "routinely underestimated existing wealth inequality."  Also quotes economist Justin Wolfers (Ph.D. '01), Professor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Michigan.
View Norton and Ariely study

'Desperate but not hopeless times'

'Desperate but not hopeless times'

November 16, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Coverage of the the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies’ annual Summit on the Future of Europe. 

"Peter A. Hall, Harvard’s Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies, warned that in addition to its debt, banking, and growth crises, Europe faces a political one, with declining levels of trust in government and a shift away from mainstream politics. Hall argued that EU leaders worsened or caused the problem by seeking a “fuller fiscal or political union” in response to the Eurozone crisis, an approach that he said deprives national electorates of the sense that their governments are accountable."
View the conference agenda
Read more about 'Desperate but not hopeless times'

Latest awards

New RSF grant: How Rigid is the Wealth Structure and Why?

New RSF grant: How Rigid is the Wealth Structure and Why?

March 12, 2015

Awardees | Alexandra Killewald and Fabian Pfeffer (University of Michigan) are the recipients of a Russell Sage Foundation grant, jointly funded with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to assess the strength and pattern of multigenerational wealth associations, and explore the role of intergenerational transfers, home ownership and marriage in wealth mobility across generations.

Latest commentary and analysis

Why Are Fewer Adults Surpassing Their Parents’ Incomes?

Why Are Fewer Adults Surpassing Their Parents’ Incomes?

December 9, 2016

FREOPP | By Scott Winship (Ph.D. '09), Visiting Fellow, Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. Winship digs into new Chetty et. al. paper released yesterday, "The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940."

The everyday response to racism

The everyday response to racism

December 9, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Sociologist Michèle Lamont and colleagues examined how minority group identities help sculpt how they handle discrimination. Lamont and Graziella Moraes Silva (Ph.D. '10), two of the authors of a new book Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel, sat down for for a question-and-answer session to talk about the project and what its findings say about race relations in the United States.

Lamont is Professor of Sociology and African and African American studies, Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies. Silva is now Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at The Graduate Institute in Geneva.

Is the American Dream Fading?

Is the American Dream Fading?

December 9, 2016

Pacific Standard | A conversation with Robert Manduca (Ph.D. student in Sociology & Social Policy), one of the authors of the economic mobility study making waves this week. Learn more about Robert Manduca's work: robertmanduca.com

A Guide to Solving Social Problems with Machine Learning

A Guide to Solving Social Problems with Machine Learning

December 8, 2016

Harvard Business Review | By Jon Kleinberg (Cornell), Jens Ludwig (University of Chicago), and Sendhil Mullainathan (Robert C. Waggoner Professor of Economics, Harvard University). "[As] with all new 'products', there is potential for misuse. How can we maximize the benefits while minimizing the harm?"

"In applying these tools the last few years, we have focused on exactly this question. We have learned that some of the most important challenges fall within the cracks between the discipline that builds algorithms (computer science) and the disciplines that typically work on solving policy problems (such as economics and statistics). As a result, few of these key challenges are even on anyone’s radar screen. The good news is that many of these challenges, once recognized, are fairly straightforward to solve."

A Simple Way to Measure Health Care Outcomes

A Simple Way to Measure Health Care Outcomes

December 8, 2016

Harvard Business Review | By John Schupbach (HBS), Amitabh Chandra (HKS), and Robert S. Huckman (HBS). Chandra is Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Memo: Federal school finance policy

Memo: Federal school finance policy

December 8, 2016

Brookings Institution | By Martin West and Nora Gordon. In the first in a Brookings series of memos on federal education policy, Martin West (Ph.D. '06), Associate Professor of Education at Harvard, and Nora Gordon (Ph.D. '02), Associate Professor of Public Policy at Georgetwon University, tackle school finance.

Robots aren't coming for your job. They're already here

Robots aren't coming for your job. They're already here

December 7, 2016

Bloomberg Game Plan Podcast | This week, Sam and Rebecca of Bloomberg talk about how robots are changing the workplace and what it means for the future of the job market. Will jobs even exist in the future? Well, yes -- they'll just be different. Prof. David Deming (Ph.D. '10), a researcher at Harvard, joins them to talk about what kinds of skills and labor the robots can't take. Hint: Be human.

Who Read What in 2016

Who Read What in 2016

December 7, 2016

Wall Street Journal | What Matthew Desmond and 49 others named as their favorite book this year. Desmond is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences and the author of Evicted.

Predictive Analytics: Better than human intuition?

Predictive Analytics: Better than human intuition?

December 7, 2016

GovEx | GovEx, the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University, speaks with Dr. Elizabeth Linos (Ph.D. '16), Vice President and Head of Research and Evaluation at Behavioral Insights Team North America, to explore the future of algorithms and their use in cities.

PEOTUS! HUD! DGA! MDC!

PEOTUS! HUD! DGA! MDC!

December 6, 2016

WNPR—The Wheelhouse | Prof. Leah Wright Rigueur of the Harvard Kennedy School guests.

We Are Donald Trump

We Are Donald Trump

December 6, 2016

The Nation | By Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School. "We bear responsibility for the whole cloth, for all the threads that bind us, one to another," Muhammad writes.

Congressional Forum: Future of the Electoral College

Congressional Forum: Future of the Electoral College

December 6, 2016

C-SPAN | Alexander Keyssar, the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy, testified at a forum hosted by House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), which explored possibilities for replacing the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote.

Harvard EdCast: The Diversity Bargain

Harvard EdCast: The Diversity Bargain

November 30, 2016

Harvard EdCast | For her new book, The Diversity Bargain and Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy at Elite Universities, Associate Professor Natasha Warikoo (Ph.D. '05), interviewed first-year students at Brown, Harvard, and Oxford. What she found was a disconnect between students' ideas of what a diverse campus would be and the reality. Often, says Warikoo, white students who were in favor of affirmative action during the admissions process were so because they saw a diverse campus as a benefit to their own growth and learning; they didn't consider what the experience would be for those of different backgrounds.

"The problem is that when that is the only way students make sense of affirmative action and diversity," says Warikoo, "it leads to some perverse outcomes," including reverse racial discrimination and anxiety about how others are affecting their success.

In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Warikoo discusses the study that led to her new book, and reflects on the notions of race, merit, and privilege at elite universities.

Trump Transition Continues

Trump Transition Continues

November 30, 2016

WBUR Greater Boston | Prof. Leah Wright Rigueur of the Harvard Kennedy School guests.

Latest books—By doctoral fellows and alumni

Sprawl, justice, and citizenship : the civic costs of the American way of life
Williamson, Thad. 2010. Sprawl, justice, and citizenship : the civic costs of the American way of life. New York: Oxford University Press.Abstract

"Must the strip mall and the eight-lane highway define 21st century American life?" That is a central question posed by critics of suburban and exurban living in America. Yet despite the ubiquity of the critique, it never sticks–Americans by the scores of millions have willingly moved into sprawling developments over the past few decades. Americans find many of the more substantial criticisms of sprawl easy to ignore because they often come across as snobbish in tone. Yet as Thad Williamson explains, sprawl does create real, measurable social problems. Williamson's work is unique in two important ways. First, while he highlights the deleterious effects of sprawl on civic life in America, he is also evenhanded. He does not dismiss the pastoral, homeowning ideal that is at the root of sprawl, and is sympathetic to the vast numbers of Americans who very clearly prefer it. Secondly, his critique is neither aesthetic nor moralistic in tone, but based on social science. Utilizing a landmark 30,000-person survey, he shows that sprawl fosters civic disengagement, accentuates inequality, and negatively impacts the environment. Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship will not only be the most comprehensive work in print on the subject, it will be the first to offer a empirically rigorous critique of the most popular form of living in America today."–Publisher description.

The casualty gap : the causes and consequences of American wartime inequalities
Kriner, Douglas L, and Francis X Shen. 2010. The casualty gap : the causes and consequences of American wartime inequalities. New York: Oxford University Press.Abstract

"The Casualty Gap shows how the most important cost of American military campaigns - the loss of human life - has been paid disproportionately by poorer and less-educated communities since the 1950s. Drawing on a rich array of evidence, including National Archives data on the hometowns of more than 400,000 American soldiers killed in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, this book is the most ambitious inquiry to date into the distribution of American wartime casualties across the nation, the forces causing such inequalities to emerge, and their consequences for politics and democratic governance." "Although the most immediate costs of military sacrifice are borne by service members and their families, The Casualty Gap traces how wartime deaths also affect entire communities. Americans who see the high price war exacts on friends and neighbors are more likely to oppose a war and its leaders than residents of low-casualty communities. Moreover, extensive empirical evidence connects higher community casualty rates in Korea and Vietnam to lower levels of trust in government, interest in politics, and electoral and non-electoral participation. A series of original survey experiments finds that Americans informed of the casualty gap's existence will accept substantially fewer casualties that those who are not told about inequality in sacrifice." "By presenting a wealth of evidence and analysis, this book seeks both to bolster public awareness of casualty inequalities and to spur critical dialogue about the nation's policy response. The Casualty Gap should be read by all who care about the future of America's military and the effects of war on society and democracy."–Jacket.

Disconnected
Leigh, Andrew. 2010. Disconnected. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.Abstract

As Australians, we traditionally see ourselves as friendly, relaxed and connected people. But the data from our census and countless other surveys show that Australian society is shifting rapidly. These days, chances are you never quite get around to talking to your neighbours. You're always too busy to give blood. You might find that you've become disconnected

Who cares? : Public ambivalence and government activism from the New Deal to the second gilded age
Newman, Katherine S, and Elisabeth S Jacobs. 2010. Who cares? : Public ambivalence and government activism from the New Deal to the second gilded age. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010.Abstract

"Americans like to think that they look after their own, especially in times of hardship. Particularly for the Great Depression and the Great Society eras, the collective memory is one of solidarity and compassion for the less fortunate. Who Cares? challenges this story by examining opinion polls and letters to presidents from average citizens. This evidence, some of it little known, reveals a much darker, more impatient attitude toward the poor, the unemployed, and the dispossessed during the 1930s and 1960s. Katherine Newman and Elisabeth Jacobs show that some of the social policies that Americans take for granted today suffered from declining public support just a few years after their inception. Yet Americans have been equally unenthusiastic abotu efforts to dismantle social programs once their are established. Again contrary to popular belief, conservative Republicans had little public support in the 1980s and 1990s for their efforts to unravel the progressive heritage of the New Deal and the Great Society. Whether creating or rolling back such programs, leaders like Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan often found themselves working against public opposition, and they left lasting legacies only by persevering despite it.""Timely and surprising, Who Cares? demonstrates not that Americans are callous but that they are frequently ambivalent about public support for the poor. It also suggests that presidential leadership requires bold action, regardless of opinion polls."--Jacket.

Includes bibliographical references (p. [203]-210) and index.

Unanticipated gains : origins of network inequality in everyday life
Small, Mario Luis. 2009. Unanticipated gains : origins of network inequality in everyday life. Origins of network inequality in everyday life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Abstract

"Social capital theorists have shown that some people do better than others in part because they enjoy larger, more supportive, or otherwise more useful networks. But why do some people have better networks than others? Unanticipated Gains argues that the practice and structure of the churches, colleges, firms, gyms, childcare centers, and schools in which people happen to participate routinely matter more than their deliberate "networking." Exploring the experiences of New York City mothers whose children were enrolled in childcare centers, this book examines why a great deal of these mothers, after enrolling their children, dramatically expanded both the size and usefulness of their personal networks. Whether, how, and how much the mother's networks were altered–and how useful these networks were–depended on the apparently trivial, but remarkably consequential, practices and regulations of the centers. The structure of parent-teacher organizations, the frequency of fieldtrips, and the rules regarding drop-off and pick-up times all affected the mothers' networks. Relying on scores of in-depth interviews with mothers, quantitative data on both mothers and centers, and detailed case studies of other routine organizations, Small shows that how much people gain from their connections depends substantially on institutional conditions they often do not control, and through everyday processes they may not even be aware of."–Jacket.

Rampage : the social roots of school shootings
Newman, Katherine S, Cybelle Fox, David J Harding, and Wendy D Roth. 2004. Rampage : the social roots of school shootings. Social roots of school shootingsSocial roots of school shootings. New York: New York : Basic Books, c2004.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 335-388) and index.

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Latest academic articles — By doctoral fellows

Herd, Pamela, Thomas DeLeire, Hope Harvey, and Donald P Moynihan. 2013. “Shifting Administrative Burden to the State: The Case of Medicaid Take‐Up.” Public Administration Review 73 (s1): S69-S81.Abstract
Administrative burden is an individual's experience of policy implementation as onerous. Such burdens may be created because of a desire to limit payments to ineligible claimants, but they also serve to limit take-up of benefits by eligible claimants. For citizens, this burden may occur through learning about a program; complying with rules and discretionary bureaucratic behavior to participate; and the psychological costs of participating in an unpopular program. Using a mixed-method approach, the authors explain process changes that reduced individual burden and demonstrate how this resulted in increased take-up in Medicaid in the state of Wisconsin. The findings inform the planned expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A key design principle for Medicaid and other means-tested programs is that it is possible to increase program take-up while maintaining program integrity by shifting administrative burdens from the citizen to the state.
Sosnaud, Benjamin, David Brady, and Steven M Frenk. 2013. “Class in Name Only: Subjective Class Identity, Objective Class Position, and Vote Choice in American Presidential Elections.” Social Problems 60. University of California Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems: pp. 81-99. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Partly because of the widespread tendency for Americans to think of themselves as “middle class,” subjective class identity often does not correspond to objective class position. This study evaluates the extent to which American voters' subjective class identities differ from their objective class positions. We then evaluate the implications of such differences for voting behavior using American National Election Studies data from eight recent presidential elections. Coding respondents according to whether subjective class identity is higher or lower than objective class position, we construct a novel schema of inflated, deflated, and concordant class perceptions. We find that there are substantial differences between Americans' subjective and objective social class: over two-thirds of the upper-middle class have a deflated perception of their class position, only half of the middle class have concordant perceptions, and more than a third of the working class have inflated perceptions. We also find that this divergence varies depending on sociodemographic factors, and especially race and education. The analyses initially show a pattern that those with inflated class perceptions are more likely to vote Republican. However, this relationship is not significant once we control for race and income.
Beckfield, Jason, Sigrun Olafsdottir, and Benjamin Sosnaud. 2013. “Healthcare Systems in Comparative Perspective: Classification, Convergence, Institutions, Inequalities, and Five Missed Turns.” Annual Review of Sociology 39: 127-146. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This article reviews and evaluates recent comparative social science scholarship on healthcare systems. We focus on four of the strongest themes in current research: (a) the development of typologies of healthcare systems, (b) assessment of convergence among healthcare systems, (c) problematization of the shifting boundaries of healthcare systems, and (d) the relationship between healthcare systems and social inequalities. Our discussion seeks to highlight the central debates that animate current scholarship and identify unresolved questions and new opportunities for research. We also identify five currents in contemporary sociology that have not been incorporated as deeply as they might into research on healthcare systems. These five missed turns include emphases on social relations, culture, postnational theory, institutions, and causal mechanisms. We conclude by highlighting some key challenges for comparative research on healthcare systems.
Garip, Filiz, and Asad L Asad. 2013. “Mexico-U.S. Migration in Time: From Economic to Social Mechanisms”. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Scholars have long noted how migration streams, once initiated, obtain a self-feeding character. Studies have attributed this phenomenon – the cumulative causation of migration – to expanding social networks that connect migrants in destination to individuals in origin. Studies however, often disagree on how social networks influence migration decisions. While many establish a positive association between individuals’ ties to prior migrants and their migration propensities, only few acknowledge that multiple social mechanisms might account for these interdependencies. To address this issue, we adopt a typology developed by DiMaggio and Garip (2012) and consider three mechanisms by which social ties may influence individuals’ migration choices. We study the prevalence of these mechanisms in the Mexico-US migration context using a mixed methods approach. First, analyzing data from more than 90,000 individuals surveyed by the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) we establish the presence of network effects in migration and test how prior migrants in the family or community increase individuals’ migration propensities, and whether prior migrants reduce the effect of economic or political indicators on migration propensities. Second, we analyze qualitative data from 120 in-depth interviews to determine the different mechanisms that lead to interdependencies in individuals’ migration choices. We thus provide a deeper understanding of migration as a social process, which we contend is crucial for anticipating future flows and policy responses.

Linos, Elizabeth. 2013. “Do Conditional Cash Transfers Shift Votes? Evidence from the Honduran PRAF.” Electoral Studies 32: 864-874.Abstract
How do national social programs influence local voting? This study utilizes the experimental set up of a conditional cash transfer program to show that small, targeted cash transfers can have large electoral effects. The Honduran PRAF program allocated an average of $18 per capita per year to poor households within municipalities that were randomly assigned to receive the program. Although the program was administered at the national level, the program increased an incumbent mayor’s re-election probabilities by 39%, without significantly influencing voting behavior in presidential elections. Moreover, the evidence suggests that transferring cash to poor households were more effective at increasing political support than interventions providing public goods for poor villages.
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander. 2013. “Dismantling Policy through Fiscal Constriction: Examining the Erosion in State Unemployment Insurance Finances.” Social Service Review 87. The University of Chicago Press: pp. 438-476. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Abstract A common proposition in welfare state research is that programs financed through dedicated payroll taxes tend to be more durable. This article examines American unemployment insurance (UI) as an exception to this proposition. UI is a self-financed social insurance program whose benefits have been dismantled over time because of an inability to maintain a constant revenue base. The study first examines the long-run decline in UI finances and concludes that changes in UI taxes are associated with the largest declines in state finances. It then examines why more states have not pursued reforms to strengthen UI finances and finds that opponents of more generous UI benefits have generally succeeded in preventing such measures, thus constricting UI finances and gradually retrenching benefits. These findings have implications for those seeking to improve UI solvency, as well as for the study of welfare state retrenchment more generally.
Huang, Wei, and Yi Zhou. 2013. “Effects of Education on Cognition at Older Ages: Evidence from China’s Great Famine.” Social Science & Medicine 98: 54-62. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper explores whether educational attainment has a cognitive reserve capacity in elder life. Using pilot data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), we examined the impact of education on cognitive abilities at old ages. OLS results showed that respondents who completed primary school obtained 18.2 percent higher scores on cognitive tests than those who did not. We then constructed an instrumental variable (IV) by leveraging China’s Great Famine of 1959e1961 as a natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of education on cognition. Two-stage least squares (2SLS) results provided sound evidence that completing primary school significantly increases cognition scores, especially in episode memory, by almost 20 percent on average. Moreover, Regression Discontinuity (RD) analysis provides further evidence for the causal interpretation, and shows that the effects are different for the different measures of cognition we explored. Our results also show that the Great Famine can result in long-term health consequences through the pathway of losing educational opportunities other than through the pathway of nutrition deprivation.

Huang, Wei, Xiaoyan Lei, John Strauss, Geert Ridder, and Yaohui Zhao. 2013. “Health, Height, Height Shrinkage, and SES at Older Ages: Evidence from China.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 5: 86-121. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In this paper, we build on the literature that examines associations between height and health outcomes of the elderly. We investigate the associations of height shrinkage at older ages with socioeconomic status, finding that height shrinkage for both men and women is negatively associated with better schooling, current urban residence, and household per capita expenditures. We then investigate the relationships between pre-shrinkage height, height shrinkage, and a rich set of health outcomes of older respondents, finding that height shrinkage is positively associated with poor health outcomes across a variety of outcomes, being especially strong for cognition outcomes.

Feigenbaum, James J, and Cameron A Shelton. 2013. “The Vicious Cycle: Fundraising and Perceived Viability in US Presidential Primaries.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 8 (1): 1-40. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Scholars of presidential primaries have long posited a dynamic positive feedback loop between fundraising and electoral success. Yet existing work on both directions of this feedback remains inconclusive and is often explicitly cross-sectional, ignoring the dynamic aspect of the hypothesis. Pairing high-frequency FEC data on contributions and expenditures with Iowa Electronic Markets data on perceived probability of victory, we examine the bidirectional feedback between contributions and viability. We find robust, significant positive feedback in both directions. This might suggest multiple equilibria: a candidate initially anointed as the front-runner able to sustain such status solely by the fundraising advantage conferred despite possessing no advantage in quality. However, simulations suggest the feedback loop cannot, by itself, sustain advantage. Given the observed durability of front-runners, it would thus seem there is either some other feedback at work and/or the process by which the initial front-runner is identified is informative of candidate quality.
Papachristos, Andrew V, David M Hureau, and Anthony A Braga. 2013. “The Corner and the Crew: The Influence of Geography and Social Networks on Gang Violence.” American Sociological Review 78 (3): 417-447.Abstract

Nearly a century of empirical research examines how neighborhood properties influence a host of phenomena such as crime, poverty, health, civic engagement, immigration, and economic inequality. Theoretically bundled within these neighborhood effects are institutions’ and actors’ social networks that are the foundation of other neighborhood-level processes such as social control, mobilization, and cultural assimilation. Yet, despite such long-standing theoretical links between neighborhoods and social networks, empirical research rarely considers or measures dimensions of geography and social network mechanisms simultaneously. The present study seeks to fill this gap by analyzing how both geography and social networks influence an important social problem in urban America: gang violence. Using detailed data on fatal and non-fatal shootings, we examine effects of geographic proximity, organizational memory, and additional group processes (e.g., reciprocity, transitivity, and status seeking) on gang violence in Chicago and Boston. Results show adjacency of gang turf and prior conflict between gangs are strong predictors of subsequent gang violence. Furthermore, important network processes, including reciprocity and status seeking, also contribute to observed patterns of gang violence. In fact, we find that these spatial and network processes mediate racial effects, suggesting the primacy of place and the group in generating gang violence.

Eldik, Yaseen, and Monica C Bell. 2012. “The Establishment Clause and Public Education in an Islamophobic Era.” Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties 8: 245-258.Abstract
The public education system has often been considered a critically important site for inter-ethnic dialogue designed to root out the prejudice that leads to discrimination against ethnic minorities. However, the prohibition of certain religious practices in schools has placed the "celebration" of religious diversity in a more precarious position than the promotion of racial diversity in ways that have deleterious effects for Muslim Americans. This Essay argues that Supreme Court jurisprudence on religious establishment in public schools has contributed to public education’s inefficacy as a tool to dismantle fear and prejudice against Muslims. We explore judicial, political, and practical approaches to bringing constitutionally permissible religious education and interfaith dialogue into public schools.
Western, Bruce, Deirdre Bloome, Benjamin Sosnaud, and Laura Tach. 2012. “Economic Insecurity and Social Stratification.” Annual Review of Sociology 38: 341-359. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Economic insecurity describes the risk of economic loss faced by workers and households as they encounter the unpredictable events of social life. Our review suggests a four-part framework for studying the distribution and trends in these economic risks. First, a focus on households rather than workers captures the microlevel risk pooling that can smooth income flows and stabilize economic well-being. Second, insecurity is related to income volatility and the risk of downward mobility into poverty. Third, adverse events such as unemployment, family dissolution, or poor health commonly trigger income losses. Fourth, the effects of adverse events are mitigated by insurance relationships provided by government programs, employer benefits, and the informal support of families. Empirical research in these areas reveals high levels of economic insecurity among low-income households and suggests an increase in economic insecurity with the growth in economic inequality in the United States.
Hirsch, Nicole Arlette, and Anthony Abraham Jack. 2012. “What We Face: Framing Problems in the Black Community.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 9: 133-148.Abstract
While many sociological studies analyze the causes, conditions, and mechanisms perpetuating American racial inequality, the literature on how African Americans understand and explain these inequalities is less developed. Drawing on 150 interviews with middle-class and working-class African American men and women, this paper analyzes inductively how respondents define and conceptualize the most pressing obstacles facing their group when probed on this question. We find that middle- and working-class respondents alike identify the problem of racism as the most salient obstacle facing African Americans. Class differences appear with respect to what other obstacles are singled out as salient: while middle-class respondents focus on lack of racial solidarity among Blacks and economic problems (in this order), working-class respondents are more concerned with the fragility of the Black family followed by the lack of racial solidarity. This analysis discusses the relevance of considering how groups make sense of obstacles, and of racism and discrimination in particular, for the study of destigmatization and antiracist strategies of stigmatized minorities.

Latest policy, research briefs, and expert testimony

Closing the Opportunity Gap Report

Closing the Opportunity Gap Report

March 16, 2016

The Saguaro Seminar—Harvard Kennedy School | In 2015, the Saguaro Seminar, led by Robert D. Putnam, Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy, launched the Closing the Opportunity Gap initiative. The initiative convened five working groups of the country’s leading experts in each of five areas: family and parenting, early childhood, K-12 education, community institutions, and “on-ramps” (like community college or apprenticeships).

Patrick Sharkey (Ph.D. '07) of New York University, a contributor to the community working group, co-authored the chapter on "Rebuilding Communities to Help Close the Opportunity Gap."

Economic Report of the President 2016

Economic Report of the President 2016

February 22, 2016

Council of Economic Advisers | Inequality (chapter 1) and early childhood disparities (chapter 4) were a central focus of this year's annual report, drawing extensively on research by many Inequality & Social Policy faculty and alumni. We are particularly partial to p. 182, which cites work by (then) doctoral fellow Sarah Cohodes et. al., "The Effect of Child Health Insurance Access on Schooling." Cohodes (Ph.D. '15) is now an Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Calling on States to Close Youth Prisons

Calling on States to Close Youth Prisons

January 14, 2016

Gov Innovator Podcast | Andy Feldman (Ph.D. '07, now Special Advisor for Evidence-Based Policy in the Office of the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education) interviews Patrick McCarthy, President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

What Do Unions Do for the Middle Class?

What Do Unions Do for the Middle Class?

January 13, 2016

Center for American Progress | New research by Richard B. Freeman and collaborators suggests that about one-third of the decline in the share of middle class workers is directly tied to the decreasing share of workers in unions. "The big question this research raises for Americans troubled by the decline of the middle class is whether the growth and level of inequality can be reduced without a strong labor movement,” said Freeman, Herbert Anchorman Professor of Economics at Harvard.
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The Influence of Teaching

The Influence of Teaching

October 26, 2015

The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University | By Ronald F. Ferguson, Sarah F. Phillips (Tripod Education Partners), Jacob F.S. Rowley (Tripod Education Partners), and Jocelyn W. Friedlander (AGI).

Addressing Economic Challenges in an Evolving Health Care Market [Event]

Addressing Economic Challenges in an Evolving Health Care Market [Event]

October 7, 2015

The Hamilton Project  | Amitabh Chandra, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, participated in a policy forum addressing economic challenges in an evolving health care market, with a focus on three new papers released in conjunction with the event. The event, held at The Brookings Institution, featured opening remarks by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, and framing remarks by CEA Chairman Jason Furman.  View papers, presentation slides, and event video online.