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 two 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 particularly intended to catalyze exploratory work and new lines of research on the sizable gains accruing at the top of the income and  wealth distributions and the broader implications of these trends. 

What are the consequences — for economic growth, intergenerational mobility, political and social inequalities, and public policy—when a country’s income and wealth are tightly concentrated at the top? How can institutions and policies be designed to reduce these forms of inequality or lessen their adverse effects? Research has only begun to investigate the implications of vast wealth concentration at the top and the ways in which this may shape or constrain economic and social policy.

The Wiener PhD Scholars. Alongside the Stone PhD Scholars, the program continues to build a group of Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Scholars in Poverty and Justice. Two additional doctoral fellowships 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 when inequalities have been laid bare, it is critically important that students in the next generation have chosen to apply themselves to urgent social problems. 

New approaches and big ideas are needed more than ever. Against a preexisting backdrop of unequal opportunity, racism and injustice, and enormous wealth concentration,  the covid-19 pandemic has starkly demonstrated how socioeconomic and racial and ethnic disparities translate into a profoundly unequal toll—in deaths and illness from COVID-19, in job losses, in economic precarity, in housing and food insecurity.  

The tangled roots of inequality suggest the importance of recognizing the relationships between them and the ways in which these call for new solutions. It is the choices made now, the problems the next generation of scholars chooses 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 originally developed with the National Science Foundation. The Inequality & Social Policy program is motivated by the idea that creating opportunities for PhD students across disciplines to confront new perspectives and to engage and learn from each other will generate new insights and powerful bodies of research.

1. New lines of research: Inequality and wealth concentration at the top of the distribution

To spur new lines of research, half of the eight Stone PhD Scholar fellowships in Inequality and Wealth Concentration are specifically designated for Harvard PhD students whose research interests encompass questions of top-end income inequality and wealth concentration: 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.

Why top-end? Much research has focused on the 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 in income and wealth at the very top. Should we worry that the gains of economic prosperity largely accrue to a small share of households, or how losses are distributed when recessions hit? 

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. 

Wealth inequalities are especially vast, wealth that provides greater economic security and protection from downward mobility in the next generation. 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, comparable to levels seen in the early 20th century. At the same time, the bottom 90% 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. Families in the top 10% of the U.S. distribution had fully recovered or surpassed pre-Great Recession wealth levels by 2016. Most others had not. In 2016 the black-white wealth gap was larger than at any point in the preceding three decades.

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 in the next generation, or on the concentration of economic and political power? How has extreme wealth concentration accelerated or contributed to racial wealth inequalities?

2. An engaged community of scholars

The Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy offers unique 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 broad range of interests in income and wealth inequality, racial wealth gaps, intergenerational mobility, neighborhoods and urban poverty, families and children, racial inequality and discrimination, labor markets, criminal justice, civil rights, government management of private-sector risks, regulation and government accountability; behavioral science in the design of social policy, and in the politics of institutions of social policy.

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 group of over 235 Alumni who have come through the Inequality & Social Policy program since its founding in 1998, including seven who now participate as faculty members.

3. 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 of 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 participate in the weekly Inequality & Social Policy Seminar series, designed to expose participants to some of the most exciting work at the frontiers of the social sciences.

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

4. 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 dissertation and research support to enable their full participation in this initiative. With these resources, the program aims to enable Harvard PhD students to think boldly and creatively in developing their own inequality research agendas.

➡️ 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.