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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
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1

Introduction

Inequalities in income, wealth, health, and life expectancy have been increasing over the past several decades in the United States. Since around 1980, fewer Americans than before are doing better than their parents did—that is, more are experiencing downward socioeconomic mobility in terms of occupational status and income. A number of efforts are currently underway to develop evidence-based strategies for increasing inter- and intragenerational mobility and improving economic and social well-being in the United States. These efforts require an improved understanding of the factors that influence social and economic mobility, the mechanisms through which these factors operate, and how these relationships and mechanisms vary across and within different population subgroups. To this end, the Committee on Population and the Committee on National Statistics at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a virtual workshop on February 14-15, 2022. The purpose of the workshop was to identify key research and data needs and priorities for future work on social and economic mobility (see the Statement of Task in Box 1-1).

Malay Majmundar, director of the Committee on Population, welcomed participants to the workshop and gave a brief overview of the history of the workshop. Members of the Committee on Population and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had numerous conversations and exchanges about this topic, according to Majmundar. The workshop was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and an interdisciplinary steering committee was appointed by the National Academies to plan the structure and content. The objective of the workshop was to help develop an agenda and establish priorities for future research and data collections, said Majmundar, with the

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
×

hope of strengthening the evidence base for policy making and contributing to the efforts of broader communities of stakeholders, practitioners, and policy makers.

Kosar Jahani, a program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, introduced workshop participants to the foundation’s past efforts in the area of economic mobility and opportunity, as well as the foundation’s goals for this workshop. The foundation’s work in this area is relatively new, she said. Some of the earliest investments were focused on research and data public goods, such as the Opportunity Atlas,1 the Eviction Lab,2 and the American Voices Project.3 These projects, alongside others, have influenced how problems around mobility are defined and understood, said Jahani. These projects have also motivated a variety of actors, including government officials and local service providers, to think more strategically about the magnitude of the problems and how to address them in their own communities. The momentum created by these projects makes the foundation “hopeful about the power of data,” and demonstrates how curious and compassionate inquiry can be a meaningful starting point for change. In this workshop, said Jahani, speakers will cover the current state of the field, identify pressing research priorities, and consider how to build the data infrastructure needed to support this type of research agenda. The

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1https://www.opportunityatlas.org/

2https://evictionlab.org/

3https://americanvoicesproject.org/

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
×

foundation’s hope is that the workshop will provide “ample fodder” to consider what types of questions should be asked and what kinds of data can be assembled in order to push the bounds of understanding some of the most pressing problems in the country today.

Steering committee chair Courtney Coile (Wellesley College) provided substantive context by noting that the workshop is occurring against a backdrop of escalating public concern about rising inequality in the United States. A mounting body of evidence points to high and rising levels of inequality, not only in income, but also in other outcome measures, such as wealth, health, and life expectancy. Coile said it has long been a “cherished American ideal” that hard work will lead to success and that each generation can expect to do better than the generation that came before it. However, for too many Americans in recent decades, these ideals are not being realized; in fact, she said, more Americans are experiencing downward socioeconomic mobility than in previous decades. To address this issue, efforts are underway to develop evidence-based strategies for increasing both inter- and intragenerational mobility. Coile explained that intergenerational mobility refers to mobility from one family generation to the next, whereas intragenerational mobility is mobility over an individual’s life span. Creating these strategies will require an improved understanding of individual and contextual factors that can affect mobility outcomes including income, wealth, education, employment, and occupation, as well as broader factors like housing markets, family, neighborhoods, and communities. There is a need to understand the mechanisms through which these factors operate, said Coile, and also how these relationships as well as mechanisms vary, both within and across population subgroups. For example, research has demonstrated large and persistent gaps in socioeconomic status along racial and ethnic lines, which are carried from one generation to the next. Coile said that this evidence suggests a need for special attention to how experiencing disadvantages, discriminations, and racist actions within employment, housing markets, credit markets, alongside other arenas of life may influence social mobility.

To make progress on these important issues, Coile asserted, it is critical to know whether the existing data and research methods are adequate. Surveys, administrative data, and big data sources can be leveraged for novel empirical approaches; where the necessary data infrastructure does not exist, it is important to articulate what that infrastructure would look like and why it would be valuable. In this workshop, Coile said speakers and discussions would identify key research and data needs and priorities for future research on economic and social mobility. Rather than being organized by specific mobility factors or data types, the workshop was organized with the aim of identifying key issues that cut across factors and data types. The steering committee asked speakers to focus their presentations

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
×

on future priorities—where the research needs to go, and what obstacles currently stand in the way of progress.

Coile outlined the structure of the workshop (the agenda for which can be found in Appendix A). The first session set the stage for the rest of the workshop by laying out key definitions and concepts in social mobility, and highlighting key findings and future directions. The next session explored conceptual approaches and frameworks for studying mobility, and the third session identified challenges and opportunities in studying the spatial dimensions of mobility. On the second day of the workshop, speakers addressed research priorities for studying mobility by race, ethnicity, and immigration status, and explored the data infrastructure that is needed to study mobility. Taken together, said Coile, these sessions provide a roadmap to the researchers who advance the understanding of social mobility, to the policy makers and funders whose support will be critical to address data infrastructure gaps and to implement policies to address inequality, and to the practitioners, who “bring these policies to life.”

This workshop proceedings follows the general structure of the workshop itself; each chapter begins with key points made by individual speakers. The proceedings was prepared by the workshop rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The planning committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop. The views contained in the proceedings are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
×
Page1
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
×
Page2
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
×
Page3
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Data Priorities for Improving Economic and Social Mobility: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26598.
×
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Since around 1980, fewer Americans than before are doing better than their parents had – that is, more are experiencing downward social and economic mobility in terms of occupational status and income. This trend in downward mobility is occurring amidst high and rising levels of inequality in income, wealth, health, and life expectancy. To better understand the factors that influence social and economic mobility, the Committee on Population and the Committee on National Statistics hosted a workshop on February 14-15, 2022. The proceedings from this workshop identify key priorities for future research and data collection to improve social and economic mobility.

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