The PhD Scholars Program

The James M. and Cathleen D. Stone PhD Scholars
in Inequality and Wealth Concentration

The Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Scholars
in Poverty and Justice


A graduate training fellowship for Harvard Ph.D. students in the social sciences, originally developed with the National Science Foundation. Harvard Ph.D. students may apply at the end of their first or second of doctoral study at Harvard.

Overview: Launching a new generation of Inequality Scholars

The Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy is pleased to announce exceptional fellowship opportunities for Harvard University PhD students in the social sciences.

The Stone PhD Scholars. A gift from the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation in 2016 created eight new fellowships each year for doctoral students pursuing research on issues of inequality and wealth concentration.

The Stone PhD Scholar fellowships are especially intended to catalyze exploratory work on the sizable gains accruing at the top of the distribution and the broader implications of these trends. What are the consequences—for economic growth, intergenerational mobility, political and social inequalities, and the design of policy—when a country’s income and wealth are tightly concentrated at the top? How might institutions and policies be designed to reduce these forms of inequality or lessen their adverse effects?

The Wiener PhD Scholars. Alongside the Stone PhD Scholars, we continue to build a group of Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Scholars in Poverty and Justice. Two additional doctoral fellowships each year are designated for PhD students whose research tackles problems of disadvantage and criminal justice.

Exemplary research programs are strongly multidisciplinary, pushing the frontiers of research by continually confronting new perspectives and engaging with the best scholarship being developed in other fields.

It is significant that James and Cathleen Stone and Malcolm Hewitt Wiener have chosen to invest in PhD students. At a time of growing public concern about inequality, disparities in life chances, and the implications of enormous wealth concentration, social science research can bring deep and rigorous scholarship to bear in analyzing these issues. It is the choices made now, the problems young scholars choose to pursue, that will shape the research agenda and our progress on these issues in the coming years.

This enterprise builds on a model of multidisciplinary collaboration in the social sciences at Harvard originally developed with the National Science Foundation. The Inequality & Social Policy program is motivated by the idea that by creating an environment rich in opportunities for PhD students across disciplines to confront new perspectives, engage and learn from each other, and push outside their comfort zones, remarkable things can happen.

A distinctive new focus for the coming years is a coordinated endeavor to develop new avenues of research on top-end income inequality and wealth concentration, the main drivers of economic inequality in the United States and other countries in recent decades.

What are the factors propelling soaring income and wealth at the top of the distribution? What are the economic, political, and social implications of different configurations of inequality? What is the appropriate framework for thinking about policies to address wealth concentration? Research has only begun to investigate these questions.

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

To stimulate new lines of research, half of the 8-10 Stone PhD Scholar fellowships in Inequality and Wealth Concentration are specifically designated for Harvard PhD students whose research interests encompass questions pertaining to top- end income inequality or wealth concentration: their causes,consequences, and institutions and policies to address these developments. The remaining Stone PhD Scholar fellowships are open with respect to substantive focus within any of the Inequality & Social Policy research domains.

Much research on economic inequality is has focused on important issues of reducing disparities between the bottom and middle of the distribution. Yet overall economic inequality in the U.S. has been propelled largely by growth at the very top, with implications that research has only begun to explore.

Trends at the top may reflect different determinants than inequality in other parts of the distribution. The pulling away of top incomes and wealth may have distinct consequences for economic growth, intergenerational mobility, public spending, or democratic politics. Policies aimed at addressing the sources or implications of inequality at the upper reaches of the distribution will likely differ from those designed to narrow gaps in the bottom half of the distribution. Progress is apt to come from bringing greater analytic clarity to these “distinct, albeit interrelated challenges” of inequality.1

Magnitudes and trends in wealth inequality are even more striking than income inequality, although measurement presents significant challenges and remains an important area of investigation. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman find that most of the increase in U.S. wealth concentration in recent decades is driven by the top 0.1 percent, whose wealth share has grown from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012, comparable to levels seen in the early 20th century. At the same time, the bottom 90 percent wealth share has sharply reversed its historical upward trend, made possible by growing middle class wealth from pensions and homeownership through much of the mid-20th century.2

The scale of these developments invites more systematic inquiry, including historical and cross-national perspectives. Does it matter that the gains of economic prosperity largely accrue to small share of households, or that historical patterns in wealth-building have again become more concentrated? What consequences do trends at the upper reaches of the distribution have on outcomes for others in the larger economy and society—e.g., through their potential effects on economic growth, upward mobility and life prospects for the next generation, or the concentration of economic and political power?

An engaged community of scholars

The Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy offers unparalleled resources for Harvard PhD students working in these areas. Faculty from across the university participate in the program, drawn from the departments of Economics, Government, and Sociology; Harvard Kennedy School; Harvard Business School; Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Law School.

Participating faculty bring a wide range of interests in income and wealth inequality, racial wealth gaps, intergenerational mobility, labor markets and human capital investment, government management of private-sector risks, regulation and government accountability; behavioral science in the design of social policy, neighborhoods and urban poverty, families and children, racial disparities and discrimination, criminal justice, civil rights, and politics.

The PhD Scholars form an active research community in Inequality & Social Policy, gaining opportunities they might not otherwise have to interact and learn from each other, from Harvard faculty drawn from across the university, and from the program’s network of Stone Senior Scholars and visitors.

Proseminar III class

The PhD Scholars join an accomplished line of nearly 200 Alumni who have come through the Inequality & Social Policy program since its founding in 1998, including several who now participate as faculty members. Former Inequality & Social Policy doctoral fellows are shaping the field today. They have authored some 70 books, and garnered 36 book prizes, 65 early career awards, and over 75 dissertation and article awards.

An integrated program of education and research

PhD Scholars pursue their research interests through an integrated set of program activities. The three-semester Proseminar in Inequality & Social Policy, taught by a multidisciplinary team faculty members, constitutes the core of the program. PhD students gain exposure to advanced scholarship in other fields and new insights from seeing how other disciplines approach similar research problems.

PhD Scholars also attend the weekly Inequality Seminar series, which is designed to provide exposure to some of the most exciting work at the frontiers of the social sciences.

The annual Stone Lecture in Economic Inequality and other special events offer opportunities for doctoral participants to examine the big questions, to engage in a broader conversation with national and international visitors.

Generous dissertation fellowship and research support

The Inequality & Social Policy program aims to cultivate path- breaking scholarship by providing doctoral students with the intellectual and financial support to do their very best work in this area. Students selected as Stone PhD Scholars or Wiener PhD Scholars receive generous fellowships to enable their full participation in this initiative.

PhD Scholars will generally be awarded a dissertation stipend of $32,000, reserved for use at the dissertation research stage (typically G-4 year), plus $5,000 in individual research funds that may be used at any point during their doctoral studies. Additional research and conference funds may be available for those doing work on top-end inequality and wealth concentration.

The research funds are intended to enable Harvard PhD students to carry out ambitious original research where costs otherwise might be prohibitive. In making these enhanced resources available, the program aims to enable Harvard PhD students to think boldly and creatively in developing their own inequality research agenda.

If you are a Harvard Ph.D. student interested in the program, we invite you view the brochure to learn more and to talk to other graduate students and faculty participants about their experiences in the program.  


Photos of William Julius Wilson's proseminar III class by Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard Staff Photographer.
Photo of walkway to John F. Kennedy Park by Pamela Metz.