SSH Rate

Project & Presidential Awards on Behavioral Economics, Future of Work, Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration, Social Inequality

Funding is available for secondary analysis of data or for original data collection. We are especially interested in novel uses of existing data, as well as analyses of new or under-utilized data. Proposals to conduct laboratory or field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, and ethnographies are also encouraged. Smaller projects might consist of exploratory fieldwork, a pilot study, or the analysis of existing data.

The Foundation encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. All proposed projects must have well-developed conceptual frameworks and research designs. Analytical models must be specified and research questions and hypotheses (where applicable) must be clearly stated.

Awards are available for research assistance, data acquisition, data analysis, and investigator time for conducting research and writing up results. Applications should limit budget requests to no more than a two-year period, with a maximum of $150,000 (including overhead) per project. Presidential Awards, with a maximum budget of $35,000 (no overhead allowed) are also available. Our website lists upcoming deadlines and provides detailed information about submitting letters of inquiry, proposals and budgets.


All applicants (both PIs and Co-PIs) must have a Ph.D. or comparable terminal degree, or a career background that establishes their ability to conduct high-level, peer-reviewed scholarly research. RSF particularly encourages early career scholars to apply for Presidential awards. All nationalities are eligible to apply and applicants do not have to reside in the U.S. RSF does not accept applications for Project and Presidential Awards from doctoral or other graduate students, unless specified in a special RFP.

Review Process and Award Decisions

The Foundation employs a rigorous multi-disciplinary review process at every stage of the application process. All letters of inquiry and proposals submitted to RSF are reviewed by program staff, external reviewers from multiple disciplines selected specifically for their expertise, members of one of the standing Advisory Committees, or some combination of these. In the case of Project Awards, final funding decisions are made by the Board of Trustees at our February, June and November Board meetings.

Behavioral Economics

The Russell Sage Foundation's program on Behavioral Economics supports innovative research that uses behavioral insights from psychology and other social sciences to examine and improve social and living conditions in the United States. We seek investigator-initiated research proposals that will broaden our understanding of the social, economic and political consequences of real-life behaviors and decisions that deviate from the neoclassical economic standards of rationality. RSF is especially interested in behavioral economics research that contributes to our understanding of topics of interest under its other programs—Future of Work; Race, Ethnicity and Immigration; Social Inequality. 

The following examples illustrate, but do not exhaust, the topics and types of research the foundation would be interested in supporting:

Poverty, Inequality and Mobility

Recent studies find that poverty and other forms of resource scarcity burden people's mental capacities and leave less 'mind' for other concerns. What does it mean for people's lives and their ability to function and make decisions? Behavioral insights may give us a better understanding of how financial scarcity, and individuals’ responses to it, affects their lives. For example, in Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (2014), Mullainathan and Shafir show that scarcity creates a distinct psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need, including why the poor and those maxed out on credit cards may fail to manage their money, and contribute to persistent poverty.

Public perceptions about inequality and mobility are often inaccurate. For example, Ariely and Norton (2011) show that there is a significant difference between what Americans think the distribution of wealth is (somewhat even), what they would prefer (more even than socialist Sweden), and how wealth is actually distributed. Behavioral insights may help us understand why individuals misperceive information, the consequences of such biases, and how these misperceptions might be corrected.

Labor Markets

Compared to other fields, the progress in applying behavioral insights to labor economics has been more uneven and scattered. In the early days, Kahneman, Knetsch and Thaler (1986) provided survey evidence on notions of fairness which could justify the observed wage compression in several industries. Further, Thaler (1989) found that behavioral factors could help understand puzzling features of inter-industry wage differentials.More recently, Shapiro (2005) finds high impatience among food-stamp recipients, implying a significant preference for immediate consumption. Oreopoulos (2007) provides evidence of high impatience among students who drop out of school, forgoing high future returns of schooling. In the job search realm, DellaVigna et al. (2014) observe that newly unemployed individuals search hard for a job in response to loss of income, but over time, they may get used to the lower level of income and search less. They then search hard again in anticipation of unemployment benefits being cut, but ultimately may get use to this as well (reference dependence with a backward looking reference point).

Parenting and Child Development

Resource scarcity may also influence parenting and child development. Research shows that the gaps in children’s achievement and behavior are due in part to the differences in parenting in rich and poor families. Using insights from behavioral economics, Gennetian et al. (2014) examine ways in which small design features of interventions (e.g. opt-in defaults, reminders, social norm messaging) can be adjusted to augment the impacts of early education and care initiatives, potentially improving parent engagement and children's developmental outcomes, especially for lower-income families.

Research in behavioral science offers insights into the difficulty of behavior change. For example, decisions that involve tradeoffs between costs and benefits occurring at different times (i.e., intertemporal choices) and the tendency to over-value immediate rewards at the expense of long-term intentions (i.e., present bias) may make it hard for parents to give up leisure (or work) today in order to invest time and effort for a distant return in children’s human capital. Kalil (2014) uses behavioral insights to better understand what motivates parents to invest in their children and to inform the design of policies to reduce inequality in children’s skill development. Research by Andreoni and Sprenger (2012) also shows that for low-income parents a tendency to discount the future may arise from uncertainty about whether the time and effort they spend on their children will help their child succeed.

Racial and Ethnic Bias

Recent studies have documented the existence of in-group racial biases in employment, criminal, judicial and educational settings. While social and legal changes have eliminated many institutionalized forms of racial discrimination, the same policy tools may have less leverage against implicit racial stereotypes. For example, Bertrand and Mullainathan (2003) provide evidence that race affects the benefits of a better resume—for Caucasian names, a higher quality resume elicits 30 percent more callbacks whereas for African American names, it elicits a far smaller increase—suggesting that racial discrimination is still a prominent feature of the labor market. In another study, Pope et al. (2014) show that individual NBA referees became unbiased after being made aware of their racial biases in referee calls of personal fouls through widespread media exposure, suggesting that raising awareness of even subtle forms of racism can bring about meaningful change.

Public Finance

Behavioral insights have played the most obvious role in finance, where behavioral finance has become its own thriving field. A better understanding of human behavior may provide a more useful framework for analyzing public finance issues, such as social insurance, income support and redistribution, and taxation. For example, in Policy and Choice (2011), Congdon, Kling, and Mullainathan explore how psychological factors, like framing, help reshape key concepts in public finance, such as moral hazards (e.g. unemployment insurance muting the incentives of unemployed individuals to return to work) and deadweight loss (e.g. taxation). More recently, Chetty et al. (2014) use Danish administrative wealth data to show that defaults are a more effective way to increase savings rates than changes in tax subsidies.

Choice Architecture

Choice architecture describes the different ways in which options can be presented to consumers, and the impact of that presentation on decision-making. For example, in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2009), Thaler and Sunstein show how choice architecture can successfully nudge people toward better decisions. More recently, Johnson et al. (2013) examine how well people make choices, how well they think they do, and what can be done to improve these choices in the new health insurance exchanges. They show that performance can be improved by providing calculation aids and by choosing a "smart" default.

Future of Work

The Russell Sage Foundation's program on the Future of Work supports innovative research on the causes and consequences of changes in the quality of jobs for less- and moderately-skilled workers and their families. We seek investigator-initiated research proposals that will broaden our understanding of the role of changes in employer practices, the nature of the labor market and public policies on the employment, earnings, and the quality of jobs of workers. We are especially interested in proposals that address important questions about the interplay of market and non-market forces in shaping the wellbeing of workers, today and in the future.

Examples of the kinds of topics and questions that are of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

Changing economies, changing families and policy responses (or lack thereof)

  • Workplaces and families are changing. Work arrangements are more flexible, but also less secure. Are we seeing the development of new ways of working and what do these changes portend for employers and employees?
  • New work-family legislation has been enacted in several cities and states. What do we know about the impact of these new laws on employers, workers, and families?
  • What is the current landscape with regard to work-family policy initiatives at different levels of government? What factors explain both recent changes and the lack of other changes? What are the implications?

The economics of productivity and the role of managerial practices in improving job quality

  • During the Great Recession, employment losses occurred throughout the economy, but were concentrated in mid-wage occupations. By contrast, during the recovery employment gains have been concentrated in lower-wage occupations. How can the quality of labor-intensive personal-service jobs be improved? What works and what doesn't in efforts to improve job quality (e.g., improving employer practices, appropriate regulation, work force organizing, apprenticeship programs)?
  • What are some economic and cultural determinants of managerial choices? What factors determine which employers opt to take the "high road" and which take the "low road," and why?
  • What role do macroeconomic policies and labor market institutions play in job quality?

Causes and consequences of job polarization

  • The changing labor market presents numerous challenges to workers' aspirations to reach the middle class. Adverse employment shocks may change the ways in which young adults form families of their own, the likelihood that they will engage in risky behaviors and norms and expectations about the transition to adulthood. How have changes in the availability of stable jobs affected the likelihood that the children of working class parents will become middle-class?
  • In many households, adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). Have intra-family transfers changed as a result of changes in the structure of the labor market? How does support to multiple generations affect labor supply at various stages in the life course?

Effects of long-term unemployment and strategies to prevent long-term disadvantage

  • Several years after the official end of the Great Recession, the U.S. still faces high levels of long-term unemployment. These workers face significant disadvantages—from loss of earnings, to the deterioration of skills, high rates of poverty, increased likelihood of divorce, and deterioration of physical and mental health. And the longer they remain unemployed, the more likely that employers' bias against them will harden. How does the likelihood of finding a job change with increasing duration of unemployment? What does this mean for federal employment policies and for workforce development strategies? What kind of interventions may help prevent long-term disadvantage for both displaced workers and first-time labor market entrants in the wake of the Great Recession?

Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

The Russell Sage Foundation launched its program on Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration in the spring of 2015. This new program seeks investigator-initiated research proposals on the social, economic, and political effects of the changing racial and ethnic composition of the U.S. population, including the transformation of communities and ideas about what it means to be American. We are especially interested in innovative research that examines the roles of race, ethnicity, nativity, and legal status in outcomes for immigrants, U.S.-born racial and ethnic minorities, and native-born whites.


For more than 20 years, RSF has supported a wide range of research projects in the areas of cultural contact and immigration. Under the Immigration program, major research projects examined intergenerational progress, identity and diversity, civic and political incorporation, and migration to new destinations. The Cultural Contact program addressed issues of inter-group relations—in the context of schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and other key institutional settings—and made significant theoretical and methodological advances in the study of stereotype threat, procedural justice, social identity, racial bias, and the content of stereotypes. Insights gained from these two long-standing programs inform our new program on Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration, which replaces the earlier two separate programs.

A primary goal of the new program is to find ways in which researchers from different social science traditions studying issues of race, ethnicity, and immigration may complement one another in productive and innovative ways. We encourage multi-disciplinary perspectives and methods that both strengthen the data, theory, and methods of social science research and foster an understanding of how we might better achieve the American ideals of a pluralist society.

Proposals may raise a variety of research questions about any one or more of the three topics encompassed by this program—race, and/or ethnicity, and/or immigration. Examples of the kinds of topics and questions that are of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

The Effects of Stratification by Race, Ethnicity, and Immigrant Status on Social, Economic, and Political Outcomes of Different Groups

  • Have patterns of racial and ethnic stratification changed as a result of recent demographic changes and in what ways have they changed?
  • To what extent has the prospect of a "majority-minority" population triggered racially-conservative politics among whites or more active participation by ethnic minorities?
  • How do race-related beliefs—including concepts of difference, prejudice towards other groups, and attitudes towards race-related policy—evolve in the context of growing ethno-racial diversity? For example, to what extent might the growing Latino population (who has now surpassed the African-American population in numbers) lead to more negative stereotypes of Latinos? Will the rapid growth in the Asian population give it a new political prominence that, in turn, influences not only attitudes towards Asians but also the extent to which racial diversity is associated with cultural difference more broadly?

American Institutions' Response to Increasing Diversity in the Population

  • Ethnic and racial diversity has increased in most advanced countries due to immigration. What has been the response of institutions (for example, labor unions, community- and faith-based organizations, schools, and the criminal justice system) to increasing diversity?
  • What are the effects of institutional responses to diversity on both racial and ethnic minorities' outcomes and on any disparities between the foreign-born and the U.S.-born?

The Role of Legal Status in Immigrant Outcomes

  • In 2014, an estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States. How does the lack of documentation affect labor market pathways for undocumented workers and their families, and for other workers? To what extent does undocumented immigration affect the way employers organize their workforce?
  • What are the long-term effects of deportation, especially on families and children? What are the effects of the implementation of administrative relief policies on immigrant integration outcomes?
  • How do assumptions about the legal status of the foreign-born affect the attitudes and behaviors of both the foreign-born and the native-born?

Ethnic and Racial Socialization and Identity Formation

  • How do parents and other adults transmit information, values, and perspectives about ethnicity and race to children? What are the consequences of these practices for children's development, including social identity, self-esteem, coping with discrimination, academic achievement, political engagement, and psychosocial well-being?
  • In 2010, about one out of seven marriages crossed the major racial and ethnic divisions. The growing incidence of intermarriage might reflect the lowering of traditional racial and ethnic divides and suggest that these divides might continue to decline. How does intermarriage affect identities, interactions, and perceptions of suitable partners, and the multi-ethnic and multi-racial children of the unions?

Immigration, Racial and Ethnic Diversity, and Integration

  • What is the economic value of racial and ethnic diversity? Has it changed in recent years, and if so how and why?
  • Who becomes naturalized and what is the value of naturalization in the labor market, in political and civic life, and in other areas?
  • How are conceptions of race changing with immigration? What social, cultural, and psychological processes underlie racial/ethnic and immigrant identification?
  • What is the impact of generation and legal status on social cohesion and integration?
  • What are the psychological and behavioral consequences of increasing immigration in specific communities for the long-term residents of those communities? How are the attitudes and behaviors of immigrants affected by the attitudinal climate of the community?

Immigration Policy and Immigrant Integration Policies

  • Formally, the federal government exerts plenary power over immigration. In reality, immigrants have been the focus of many local ordinances that attempt to exclude immigrants from access to schools, medical services, housing, and employment, but in other instances attempt to facilitate integration. What are the effects of these sub-federal practices on immigrant outcomes?
  • Ethnicity and race have shaped immigration policy and politics throughout history. What is the impact of recent policies on social and political development? How have these policies impacted public opinion, inter-group relations, and the balance of political power?

Redefinition of Inter-Group Relations

  • Does ethnic diversity strengthen or weaken community inter-ethnic relations? What is the relationship between diversity, segregation and social cohesion in neighborhoods?
  • Under what conditions are disadvantaged African-Americans and Latinos likely to coalesce around shared economic and political interests?
  • What are the sources of conflict, tension and accommodation between newcomers and long-term residents? What factors contribute to better acceptance of the new immigrants and which ones lead to conflict?
  • What is the relationship between newer and older immigrant groups and between first-generation immigrants and citizen co-ethnics? How does the presence of the co-ethnics shape the integration and socialization of new arrivals?

Social Inequality

The Russell Sage Foundation's program on Social Inequality supports innovative research on whether rising economic inequality has affected social, political, and economic institutions, and the extent to which increased inequality has affected equality of opportunity, social mobility, and the intergenerational transmission of advantage. We seek investigator-initiated research projects that will broaden our understanding of the causes and consequences of rising economic inequalities in the United States.

Examples of the kinds of questions that are of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

Economic Well-Being, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility

  • How have increased inequality in income and wealth affected equality of opportunity and intergenerational mobility?
  • Have the barriers to social mobility changed over time?
  • Have government policies ameliorated or exacerbated economic inequality and its consequences?

The Political Process and the Resulting Policies

  • Has rising inequality affected legislative performance, political voice, political responsiveness, polarization, or government actions and reforms?
  • Has rising economic inequality allowed economic elites greater access to and influence on the policy process and policy outcomes at the national and subnational levels?

Psychological and/or Cultural Change

  • Has increased inequality affected beliefs, values, and behaviors, including young people's career or educational aspirations?
  • How have attitudes and values about social institutions and government changed?
  • What are the psychological consequences of income scarcity and what does it mean for people's lives and their everyday ability to function and make decisions?


  • Has rising inequality affected educational opportunities?
  • Is increased inequality related to educational achievement or attainment, or the educational aspirations of youth?
  • Do high-performing individuals at the bottom of the income distribution fare as well as their peers at the top?

Labor Markets

  • How are changes in the labor market and occupational structure related to changes in economic inequality? And what are the implications of these labor market shifts and occupational changes for equality of opportunity and individuals’ social mobility?
  • How has rising inequality affected the retirement decisions of older workers and the labor market opportunities of those just entering the labor market?

Child Development and Child Outcomes

  • As income and wealth inequality have grown, is a family's economic status more strongly related to children's development and outcomes in areas such as cognitive or behavioral development, academic achievement, and educational attainment?
  • Are intergenerational resources (e.g. resources of parents and grandparents) playing a more important role now than in the past?

Neighborhoods and Communities

  • Has increased economic inequality contributed to changes in economic or racial segregation in neighborhoods and communities? How do these spatial inequalities affect the opportunities and life chances of residents?

Families, Family Structure, and Family Formation

  • How do recent trends in income and wealth inequality relate to trends in family formation and family structure?
  • To what extent are changes in family formation and family structure contributing to changes in economic inequality, and to what extent are they a consequence of those changes?

Other Forms of Inequality

  • How does race/ethnicity, gender, immigrant status, or disability interact with economic inequality? Is growing economic inequality affecting other types of inequality?
Application date
31 May 2017
Up to 2 years
America United States Mid-Atlantic
Social sciences Business and Administrative Sciences Communication Sciences Demography Economics Environmental Sciences Gender Studies Geography International Relations Law Pedagogic & Education Research Political science Psychology & Cognitive Sciences Social Anthropology Sociology
Required post-doc experience: 
between 0 and 99 years
Award granted
Up to US$ 150.000