Ph.D. training

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

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 doctoral students in the social sciences: The James M. and Cathleen D. Stone PhD Scholars in Inequality and Wealth Concentration and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Scholars in Poverty and Justice.

Support from the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation launched the first cohort of eight Stone PhD Scholars in 2016, giving new momentum to Harvard University efforts to cultivate the very best emerging scholarship on issues of inequality and wealth concentration. Their engagement makes possible continued opportunities for PhD students to acquire insights and tools from neighboring social science fields with which to apply themselves to consequential problems.

 Alongside the Stone PhD Scholars in Inequality and Wealth Concentration, we continue to build a group of Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Scholars in Poverty and Justice, with two additional doctoral fellowships each year designated for PhD students whose research will advance our understanding of problems of material 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.

We are honored that these contributors have chosen to invest in Ph.D. students. At a time of growing public concern about economic inequality, disparities in life chances, and the implications of high levels of wealth concentration, social science research can bring deep and rigorous scholarship to bear in analyzing these issues. We view the range of research questions represented in the program as the future of much exciting and important work in the social sciences. 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.

Walkway to John F. Kennedy Park

The immediate impact of these gifts is that they enable Harvard to carry forward an initiative established and built over more than 15 years with the support of the National Science Foundation, a multidisciplinary learning experience designed to equip Harvard PhD students across the social sciences to advance the very best problem-driven research on issues of inequality, To spur new lines of research, half of the 8-10 Stone Scholar Inequality and Wealth Concentration fellowships are specifically designated for Harvard PhD students whose research interests encompass questions pertaining to top-end inequality or wealth concentration: their causes, consequences, and institutions/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

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 academic research has only begun to explore.

Top-end inequality 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 (Summers, Kearney, and Hershbein 2015). The Stone PhD Scholar fellowships aim to illuminate these issues by supporting research on relatively less studied questions of income and wealth concentration at the very top.

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. (Saez and Zucman 2015).

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 Ph.D. students working in these research areas. Some 70 Faculty participants are engaged in the program, drawn from the Harvard departments of Economics, Government, and Sociology; the Harvard Kennedy School; Harvard Business School; Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Law School.

Recent faculty additions to the program bring new strengths in income inequality and wealth concentration, intergenerational mobility, labor markets and human capital investment, government management of private-sector risks,  regulation and government accountability, behavioral economics and household finance, judgment and decision-making; behavioral science in the design of social policy, regional economies and housing, and race, civil rights, and politics.

Stone and Wiener PhD Scholars gain membership in an active intellectual community of Faculty and PhD students and national and international scholars advancing important work in these areas. Doctoral students drawn from different disciplines gain 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 Scholar affiliates and visitors.

Proseminar III class

Doctoral participants join an accomplished line of Alumni who have come through the Inequality & Social Policy program since its founding in 1998. The program now counts nearly 180 PhD social scientists among its former doctoral fellows, including some who now participate as faculty members. Former Inequality & Social Policy fellows have authored over 60 books that are shaping the field today. Their work has garnered some 30 book prizes, 60 early career awards, and over 70 dissertation and article awards.

An integrated program of education and research

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

Doctoral fellows also attend the weekly Inequality & Social Policy Seminar Series, which delves into the latest academic research in this area coming out of economics, political science, sociology, and related fields. Participants gain 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 pathbreaking scholarship by providing doctoral students with the intellectual and financial support to do their very best work in this area. Doctoral students selected as Stone PhD Scholars or Wiener PhD Scholars receive generous fellowship resources to enable their full participation in this education and research 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 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 Inequality & Social Policy program aims to open new possibilities for Harvard PhD students to think boldly and creatively in pursuing innovative lines of inequality research.

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.