Persistent Poverty and Upward Mobility

2008-2011 Theme Project

upward mobility




Initial Proposal (pdf)

A rich vein of social science explores longstanding questions about the nature of persistent poverty and its (quasi-)complement, upward socioeconomic mobility. Economic, geographic, political, psychological and sociocultural phenomena all appear highly salient to the experience of mobility or persistent poverty in different settings, but most research focuses on just one or another of these mechanisms in isolation. To what extent can these alternative mechanisms be modeled simultaneously? What do we know about the effectiveness of different interventions intended to promote upward mobility and to reduce persistent poverty? Where has a (perhaps latent) consensus emerged, and where does the evidence remain inconclusive? These are the core questions around which the 2008-2011 theme project on Persistent Poverty and Upward Mobility is organized.

Our team will structure interactions around four key sub-themes that heavily influence the path dynamics followed by the poor: health and nutritional status, educational attainment, labor productivity-enhancing technologies and markets, and risk exposure. The first two of these reflect human-embodied capital that affects the productivity of individual workers and explains much variation in well-being and behaviors. The latter two are the joint product of individual-level variables, such as wealth, and community-level factors related to the formal and informal institutions and technologies that incentivize and constrain individual and collective behaviors. Our investigations will tackle issues of theory, measurement, causal inference and policy analysis as they relate to each of these sub-themes.

The core activities of the theme project will encompass cutting-edge individual and collaborative research by team members, visitors, affiliates and (undergraduate and graduate) students stimulated through informal interactions, weekly lunchtime seminars, two major conferences and team-taught courses. We will complement these research and instructional activities with public outreach aimed at extending the fruits of this research to the broader community.