Work, Family, and Opportunity

The slowing of economic growth and increased gains at the very top of the distribution have altered American society, transforming the nation from one in which different socioeconomic groups “grew together” to one in which these groups are “growing apart.” Slow growth and rising inequality are backdrops for several other trends. The first is that poor people in America were once its elderly but are now its children, a disproportionate number of whom are black. Related to the issue of child poverty is persistent gender inequality, as many poor children live with their mother only and are raised entirely on their mother’s income. Women’s earnings relative to men remain low, in large part due to a labor market that rewards the capacity of workers to be on-call and work on-demand. More generally, the labor market, for both women and men, is defined by the increasing segregation of elite and highly educated workers to stable employment on the one hand, and the outsourcing and increased instability of jobs for lower education workers on the other; this segregation is contributing to a rise in wage inequality. Finally, we have reached an era in which most children in the U.S. are no longer likely to earn more than their parents. Declines in intergenerational mobility reflect a landscape of starkly unequal economic opportunities. These disparities pose a fundamental challenge to the “American dream” of economic progress for all families.

As part of the Inequality in America Initiative, we will bring together scholars from throughout the social sciences and draw on the strengths of world-renowned faculty in economics, sociology and related fields who study child poverty and the effects of deprivation on education and future mobility; gender inequality and the costs of time flexibility; rising inequality in labor market earnings and its relationship to technical change and increased segregation of the workforce by skills and background; how to expand economic opportunity and facilitate mobility out of poverty; and the relationship between economic inequality and other critical life outcomes, such as fertility, family structure, morbidity, disability, mortality, social connectedness, happiness, and well-being.

Faculty leads: Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics; Lawrence Katz, Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics; Alexandra Killewald, Professor of Sociology